With more school districts adopting electric school buses, safety training has become a key component for operations — not just for bus drivers and maintenance technicians — but also for first responders.
From dealing with a new electric powertrain and battery technology to different maintenance and safety requirements, the proper training can help ensure a successful emergency response.
“With any bus, especially a new powertrain such as electric, we want to ensure drivers and technicians are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to confidently operate and service their buses,” says Daniel Droog, a trainer for Virginia-based Thomas Built Buses dealer Sonny Merryman.
Here, School Bus Fleet spoke with Droog, two school districts in Virginia that he recently provided training for through Dominion Energy’s Electric School Bus program, and two first responders for tips on how to conduct these types of trainings and how they can help ensure safe electric bus operations.
1. Make the Connection(s)
In many cases, school districts already have a working relationship with their local first responders — perhaps through a previous safety or bus evacuation training. Because of this, Droog says it’s essential for districts to make initial connections between their bus dealer and emergency personnel.
“Communication with everyone involved is key,” he says. “We lean on [the district] to set this up because they usually have a direct line with their first responders before we conduct any training.”
Darrin Wills, the transportation director for Hampton City (Va.) Schools — one of 15 Virginia school districts who is receiving electric bus training from Sonny Merryman — says he reached out to Hampton City and Fire Rescue before moving forward with his district’s three-day training program.
“We just wanted to make sure that we cover the bases and make sure that everybody was here for the rollout for this new electric school bus,” Wills said. “Sonny Merryman and Daniel were more than accommodating for the three days that they were here and the three additional days that Lieutenant Jason Major [of Hampton Fire and Rescue] and his station performed their training.”
Lt. Major told SBF that approximately 70 of his department's staff members were able to attend the training.
2. Host Classroom, Hands-On Components
Sonny Merryman’s electric school bus training program is specifically designed for Thomas Built Buses Jouley electric school bus, and includes technician, driver, and first responder training curriculum in hands-on and classroom-style formats.
“Driver training covers topics such as best practices for driving an electric school bus and charging protocols,” Droog says. “During technician training, participants learn about the electric powertrain and batteries, electric school bus maintenance procedures, and complete safety requirements to become HV1 and HV2 certified.”
For first responders, he says the training consists of learning how to identify, safely interact with, and disarm the high-voltage system on an electric school bus in the event of an emergency.
Last month, Chesapeake Fire Department had approximately 20 of its department members attend one of Sonny Merryman’s trainings for Chesapeake (Va.) Public Schools, which included a short classroom presentation and then a "show and tell" type session where they were able to walk around the bus and see its different components, Battalion Chief Jonathan Hinson, the department’s training director, told SBF.
“The training was held at the local Sonny Merryman facility where they were able to put the bus up on a lift so we could walk under it and see all the critical components,” he said. “We also were able to visit and learn about the charging station for the buses at the school's bus maintenance facility.”
While not all of the department’s 400 staff members were able to attend the training, Hinson says he did have their video team film the training.
“The video will allow all our responders to be ready to respond to an incident involving the electric buses as these buses could be anywhere in our city,” he says. “The information learned can also be applied to any electric vehicle (EV) response we face as there are more and more EVs hitting the road in different forms than school buses.”
3. Involve a Tow Company
In addition to working with first responders, Hampton City’s Wills encourages school districts to involve a local towing company during an electric bus training.
“They have to learn how to pick the bus up from the front if the bus needs to be towed in the event of an actual emergency,” he adds. “I would encourage every district to make sure that if they don't have their own tow trucks, to make sure they get with their local towing company so they can help.”
Hinson agrees, as having a tow company present at the training can help ensure an electric bus is removed safely from the scene of a possible incident. He says it also allows them to get familiar with the hazards and equipment locations of an electric bus.
4. Create EV Bus Indicators
While it may be easy for school transportation staff to identify an electric bus compared to a diesel, propane, or gasoline bus based on appearance, what about first responders?
As part of the training at Hampton City Schools and Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools, emergency personnel were informed about each district’s electric bus being identified by “EV” followed by the bus number on the side of the vehicle.
“We have that ‘EV’ indicator there so when the fire and rescue team pulls up they know that this is an electric vehicle,” Wills says. “This is the same way we identify our gas and diesel buses, with the indication on the side of the vehicle.”
James Lash, the executive director of transportation and fleet services management for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, adds that both his district and Hampton City Schools had to get state approval for numbering its buses with the “EV” indication.
“Virginia is very particular about bus stuff; you have to have everything approved by the state,” he says. “Other districts [in the state] are looking to do that too, which will help emergency responders know ‘Hey that's an electric, gas, propane, or diesel vehicle.’”
5. Consider Ongoing Training
With more EVs and buses heading out on the roads, Lash says it is important for school districts and first responders to keep up with the latest in electric technology.
“This is new technology so we're going to learn as we go,” he says. “But, we will need continuous training to remind people of safety.”
If for some reason a school district is unable to connect with their dealer for any electric bus training, Lash says the district should consider reaching out to their school bus manufacturer or consult with their state's pupil transportation association for possible training opportunities.
“Encourage your state’s pupil transportation association to consider the topic for future programming,” he explains. “I was the past president of the Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation, and I could tell you that they’re looking at offering lessons for our future conferences. Those partnerships will be great for operations in the long run.”