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Emergency Response Tips for School Bus Drivers

Emergency Response Tips for School Bus Drivers

Drivers can help fire and medical services personnel and enhance the safety of their passengers during accidents or other serious incidents by being certified in CPR and first aid. Knowing when a bus evacuation is necessary and establishing a system for identifying the students on the bus are also important.
by By Paul Hasenmeier

During emergencies, particularly those involving a school bus, fire and EMS (emergency medical services) personnel will come from all directions, and they are expected to bring calm to chaos.

School bus drivers can help by preparing for the "never happen to me" emergencies, having good situational awareness and remaining calm.

They can also assist first responders by attending first aid/CPR training sessions, knowing when to evacuate their buses and keeping a record of the passengers who are riding their buses.

With this knowledge and information, drivers' observations, decisions and actions can have a substantial impact, preventing serious injuries or even death both before and after fire and medical professionals arrive.

Training in CPR and first aid can save lives
Bus drivers usually have regular contact with the passengers on their school buses; many drivers talk with their students on a daily basis.

Oftentimes, this level of communication enables drivers to become familiar with their passengers' medical histories and knowledge of a recent injury or illness.

Insight into students' conditions is useful, particularly if a student becomes sick on board or if an emergency occurs, but it is equally important for drivers to be trained in first aid and CPR since they have initial contact with their passengers in an incident. We hope to never have to utilize the skills and procedures we learn, but they might prove to be lifesaving.

Basic first aid and CPR training can be obtained through numerous organizations, such as the American Red Cross or your local fire department.

During sessions, trainees learn how to handle medical and trauma emergencies including bleeding control, shock, respiratory and cardiac arrest, seizures, diabetes-related problems, hypo- and hyperthermia, and spinal precautions.

Knowing when to evacuate a school bus
If an accident or other emergency occurs on a busy roadway or a dangerous curve, it may be safest to evacuate the passengers from the bus.

Many school districts have procedures for their drivers to follow in different emergencies, and the procedures may involve evacuating the school bus.

What scenarios merit a bus evacuation? I believe there are several types of instances when an evacuation should take place:
Fire. If a fire starts on the bus, statistics show that smoke, hazardous gases and fire will spread throughout the bus within two minutes. Therefore, an evacuation is essential.
Fuel spill. If, following an accident, fuel is leaking from the school bus or another vehicle involved in the crash, all it will take is a spark to ignite a fire. You must evacuate the bus.
Downed power lines. If power lines are draped across the bus and there is no fire hazard, it will be safest on the bus until emergency responders and the power company shut the electricity off. 

If a fire has ignited, you must evacuate, but in doing so, the driver and students cannot make contact with the energized bus and the ground at the same time or they will risk being electrocuted.

Jumping out of the bus from the exit that is farthest from the point of contact with the power lines may be necessary.

Roadway positioning. If a bus emergency occurs on a busy section of roadway or on a dangerous curve in the road, it may be safest to evacuate the passengers. School bus drivers know their routes best, and it will be a judgment call.
Passenger injury. If none of the immediate threats to life outlined above are present following a school bus emergency that has left passengers injured, drivers should not try to evacuate them until emergency responders arrive — they could risk further injuring the students. Drivers should care for the injured parties to the best of their abilities using the knowledge they have gained from first aid training.


School bus drivers who can identify the students on their buses and keep a roster of passengers on board will help to reduce confusion when students have to be transported from the scene of the incident.

Accounting for students will help first responders
School bus drivers will have a huge impact and greatly assist emergency responders if they can account for the students on their buses following an accident or some other type of emergency.

For drivers who have taken the time to learn the names of the students they transport, identifying them becomes second nature, and as long as the driver is capable, he or she can identify students for first responders.

However, there are a number of situations where this might not be  possible. The driver may be unconscious or otherwise disabled; there may be a substitute driver operating the bus; the driver may be transporting students for a field trip and there may be students on board whom he or she does not know, etc.

Most adults carry a driver's license or another form of identification. Students do not always have photo identification with them. Other ways to identify students if a driver is unable to do so may be to check a backpack for a name or ID tags, to ask other students or to check a wallet for identification.

In the event that no name can be established, a detailed physical description of the student should be documented. Specifics should include gender, ethnic origin, approximate age, speech accent, hairstyle and color, approximate height and weight, clothes, shoes and any other distinguishing characteristics. If a driver is unable to document all of these characteristics, he or she should choose the critical and most distinguishing characteristics.

To establish a list of students on a bus, emergency responders will search the driver's area for a roster of students who are assigned to the bus. If a list is found, it will only be a starting point to identify the students on board, as it may not be accurate or complete.

I recommend that each school bus have a list of potential passengers on the bus located in a place that is easily accessible to emergency responders — perhaps by the driver's seat near the front door of the bus.

Some students may need to be transported to hospitals, some may released to parents after being checked by EMS and others may need to be placed on another bus to be transported home or to school. A seating chart with names of the students riding the bus would also reduce some of the confusion in an emergency and help in determining which students, if any, were transported away from the scene of the incident.

During field trips and sporting events, the chaperone or coach should provide the school bus driver with a list of passengers on the bus. (Names can easily be scratched off the list if students were unable to attend the trip or event at the last minute.) The list can then be placed in an accountability packet near the driver's seat. Again, this will help emergency responders account for all passengers, especially if the driver, chaperone or coach becomes incapacitated.

Language may be a barrier in communicating with some students and parents. If you feel that this could be a problem, notify the school district to find an interpreter and arrange in advance for that person to be transported to the location where his or her services will be needed in the event of an incident, whether it's to the accident scene, a medical facility or a briefing area. Oftentimes, law enforcement and fire officials have contacts for bilingual individuals.

Lt. Paul Hasenmeier has been a firefighter for the Huron (Ohio) Fire Division since 2000. He is also a paramedic and a fire inspector. Hasenmeier has an associate's degree in fire science and has gained knowledge through technical rescue disciplines. He has presented at numerous national fire and pupil transportation conferences.

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Date: 11/23/2011 10:44:15 AM

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