Drills, routines help keep students safe on P.E.I. school buses

As bus driver Nicole Couture headed out on her bus route to Summerside, P.E.I., on Thursday, she couldn't help but think of what happened to a fellow driver yesterday.

"It's very disturbing," said Couture, who has 17 years experience as a bus driver.

"I'm so happy there was no children on that bus."

She was referring to the incident near Central Kings on Wednesday morning during which an empty school bus caught fire.

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Couture, who is also the president of the CUPE 1145 P.E.I. School Board transportation group, said that if there had been students on the bus she's confident they would have been unharmed.

She cited the regular training and checks that drivers carry out on their buses, as well as the drills they conduct with students.

Drills and inspections

She said drivers are required to do a 28-point checklist twice a day to ensure their bus is ready to go.

If there are any issues, they are to call a staff mechanic with the provincial department of transportation, infrastructure and energy. The department is responsible for vehicle check ups, maintenance and inspections.

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Couture said all bus drivers are trained to pull over at the first sign of trouble and call for a replacement bus. At the first sign of smoke, they are required to immediately get everybody off the bus.

"They do know what to do.  They know I'm going to stop,and say 'There's an emergency. We have to leave by the back door,'" said Couture.

"Big kids will jump off from the back door once we're stopped and I'll let all the children out."

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That is just part of the French Language School Board's procedure to deal with emergency incidents on a school bus.

"Students at the back would have been appointed to assist students who are disembarking," said Brad Samson, acting superintendent for the board.

"They would have moved approximately 100 feet away from the vehicle to the safe area.  There would've been a head count. We would have contacted emergency services and advise people that the students were safe."

Applies to all P.E.I. school buses

Samson said in both the English Public Schools Branch and French Language School Board all students are required to go through two emergency evacuations each year.

They'll carry one drill out at the start of the school year and a refresher in the winter.

Steve Bruce/CBC

Students are taught — depending on the emergency — where and how to exit the bus.

School principals or other staff supervise the drills and plans are put in place for buses that carry students with special needs.

Couture said, at the start of the year, a few of the bigger kids on each bus are assigned to help the smaller kids.

Steve Bruce/CBC

School bus drivers will also occasionally quiz the students to make sure they haven't forgotten what to do.

"I'll ask them 'Okay, tell me where the exits are?' And they're really fast. They say the door, the front door, the back door, the roof and the side windows," Couture said.

"You teach them every year so it's mostly the kindergartners you have to teach a little more."

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