“The wheels on the bus go round and round …” You may be surprised to know there are 380 reportable school bus fires per year, according to the United States Department of Transportation. That means every day a school bus catches fire. What may be even more surprising is that many school buses do not have an automatic fire suppression system to detect engine fires. It only takes three to five minutes for a school bus to be fully engulfed in smoke and fire. When the vehicles that are supposed to protect our children aren’t completely fire safe, we have a problem. If that weren’t enough, bus fires result in over 30 injuries and $28 million in direct property damage per year.
Studies from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) break these fires down by cause. Almost 70% of bus fires are traced back to the engine, running gear or tires, and 83% are from mechanical or electrical failures. In 2017, a school bus fire in Oakland, Iowa, killed a 16-year-old student and the bus driver, sparking national attention and bringing more awareness to the need for effective fire suppression systems in school buses. The School Bus Safety Act of 2019 outlines mandatory safety features for school buses, including “a fire suppression system which addresses engine fires.” Directed to the Department of Transportation, this bill is currently stalled in the Senate and House of Representatives. In 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board also issued a safety recommendation that all new and in-service school buses have automatic fire suppression systems.
Why are automatic fire suppression systems so important?
Joe Rost, Amerex Vehicle Fire Suppression Sales Manager, knows the importance of the School Bus Safety Act of 2019 and the need to get it moving. With more than 16 years in vehicle fire suppression and almost five years on the Amerex team, Joe knows every detail about the design, operation, technical support and training for the Amerex Kodiak vehicle system. Automatic fire suppression systems detect fire and activate right when an engine fire occurs, allowing the driver to focus on getting students off the bus. Most schools ensure emergency evacuation drills take two minutes or less to complete. “While healthy students can evacuate quickly, non-ambulatory students on special needs buses need extra time and assistance,” Joe says. “It takes time to evacuate wheelchairs from a bus. Every second counts, and with an automatic fire suppression system, the driver has the extra time they need to evacuate.”
Some states like California, Nevada, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, have specific requirements for fire suppression systems while others leave this choice up to local school districts or bus operators. Most schools focus on utilizing the fire suppression system for special needs buses. But really, it’s important that all school buses have a vehicle suppression system. Most people may think — “Well, there’s a fire extinguisher on the school bus so we’re good, right?” Every school bus should have an extinguisher on board for small emergencies, but Joe explains an automatic system should be the first line of defense. “In an engine fire situation, the last thing the situation needs is diverting the driver’s attention away from evacuating students to try to fight a fire the driver may not be trained for,” Joe says. “You shouldn’t get up close to an engine fire with a fire extinguisher.”
With the increase of electric transit buses, we also need to think about having adequate fire protection with this new fire risk in electric school buses. The new Amerex SafetyNet-EV gas detection system gives advance warning at the exact moment a cell is ruptured within lithium-ion batteries, which leads to eventual thermal runaway for multi-cell battery failure. Learn more about how this system protects against battery fires in electric vehicles.
While we need to protect students, we also need to keep the driver out of harm’s way, too. Trying to find the fire source under the hood is very dangerous and will actually fuel the flames, making the fire worse. “Opening the hood allows more oxygen to feed the fire, and it will grow very fast, exposing the driver to even greater harm,” Joe says. “Let the fire suppression system do its job and stand by with a fire extinguisher for backup if needed.”
How does the Amerex vehicle system work?
The Kodiak vehicle fire suppression system is designed with heat detection that is installed in the engine compartment and monitors for fire condition. The detection system then reports a fire condition back to a fire control panel located near the driver, which alerts the driver and automatically activates the fire suppression system. If needed, the driver can also manually activate the system at any time. Even when the bus is unattended or parked for the night, the system will automatically activate if it detects fire. “When it comes to safety, the system is designed to work without someone having to get close to the fire,” Joe says.
Key benefits of the system:
- Flexibility. The system is designed to accommodate any size bus and will activate even when the bus is unattended —including overnight.
- Ease of installation. It’s easy to install and maintain the system. We offer many panel, detection and agent options along with flexible agent cylinder mounting options. This allows the Amerex system to be installed on a bus from the small Type A front engine bus to the large Type D rear buses and any bus type and size in between.
- Durability. We use this same fire suppression system on public transit buses, mining machines, waste management vehicles and over-the-road trucks and vehicles.
- Factory Mutual (FM) approved. You get a system that is designed, tested and fit for its purpose with the approval and backing from a recognized agency.
“This system is more than tough enough to be installed on a school bus,” Joe says. He enjoys working in fire suppression and says it’s very rewarding to educate others about the importance of these systems along with people who share the same dedication and passion for the industry. “Everyone at Amerex works hard to ensure that what goes out the door is a safe, reliable and durable product that our customers can rely on to protect lives,” Joe adds. “‘Quality is Behind the Diamond’ means Amerex products are engineered and tested without compromise or shortcuts.”
Learn more about the Amerex Kodiak vehicle fire suppression system for school buses in this brochure, and choose Amerex vehicle systems to protect all students and ensure the wheels on the bus keep going round and round.
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Joe joined the Amerex team in November 2017 as the Vehicle Fire Suppression Systems Sales Manager. With over 17 years of experience in fire suppression, Joe leads all vehicle sales, answering questions about Amerex vehicle systems and serving customers and distributors in all applications — from buses in mass transit to school buses to mining, waste and forestry equipment. “Our systems are stored pressure systems. The agent and nitrogen are in the same bottle, so you don’t have external parts, which simplifies installation and maintenance. We also have different types of control panels that all have battery backup and flash codes for ease of diagnostics. All of our wiring is plug and play, so our system is very easy to work with.”