Knowing what to do in a school bus fire could save lives - WSFX - FOX Wilmington, NC

What to do when a school bus catches fire

What parent doesn't worry every day when their child boards a school bus and waves good bye?

Accidents involving school buses happen every day, but did you know, there are over 2,000 fires involving buses every year in the United States?

The thought of a child being trapped in a fiery inferno is unimaginable. 

Bus Driver Lindora Richardson was taking students home when she sensed something terribly wrong.

"When I saw the smoke coming from the steering column, that's when I had already made my mind to get the kids off the bus," Richardson recalls.

She and the six students on board managed to get off the bus before it filled with noxious black smoke.

"We were already off the bus when it started to flame up," she said.

Minutes later, ferocious flames completely engulfed the bus.

These type of fires happen more often than you think.

The National Fire Protection Association collects data on all fires involving school buses, other types of buses, and trackless trolleys.

Between 2003 and 2007, U.S. firefighters responded to an average of 2,400 bus or trolley fires. That's about nine fires every day. These fires cause about seven deaths and 27 injuries annually.

Two-thirds of these fires were caused by mechanical failure. Electrical failures were blamed in 24 percent of the cases.

The fire on the school bus Richardson was driving was likely sparked by worn wire coverings which may have caused an electric short.

For smaller fires, bus drivers are trained to immediately park the bus, and reach for the fire extinguisher.

Experts say parents need to regularly remind smaller children what to do in the event of a big fire on their school bus. 

Devery Peterson is a bus safety and training specialist for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district.

She teaches safety classes to hundreds of school bus drivers and says students need to listen to their driver.

"If there is a fire on that bus, the students should take whatever direction the bus driver has given them," Peterson says.

Depending on where the fire occurs, the driver will know if students should use the front door, rear door, or one of the hatches located in the top of the bus to get out alive.

Since the floor of a school bus is about four feet above the ground, younger children can get hurt while trying to exit a bus during an evacuation.

If there is an emergency on a bus and the driver instructs the passengers to get off the back of the bus, open up the latch, and sit to scoot off the back of the bus. This will prevent smaller children from falling and getting seriously injured.

Devery says you should tell your children to forget about grabbing their book bag.

"If there is a fire on the bus, the students should not take their belongings with them because, again, things can happen pretty quickly and they would need to get off the bus as soon as possible and as safely as possible," Peterson says.

If you are able to use the front door, hold onto the railing so you won't trip on the steps. Remember, every second counts!

If a child falls, they could be trampled by other students, or they could cause others to be trapped inside the burning bus.

Thanks to Richardson's quick thinking and a calm evacuation, none of the students on her bus were injured.

"I feel like it's good to be called a hero, but I feel like I'm not a hero because I was doing my job," Richardson says.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, school buses are the safest way for getting children back and forth to school.

Only one percent of student fatalities are the result of riding a school bus.


  • Equipment or other heat source failures caused three-fifths of the bus and school bus fires. (Source: National Fire Protection Association)
  • Click here for more information about vehicle fires involving buses.
  • School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. (Source: American School Bus Council)
  • There are 480,000 school buses in the US. (Source:
  • Since 2000, 130 school-age pedestrians (younger than 19) have died in school transportation-related crashes. Over two-thirds (67%) were struck by school buses, 6 percent by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 27 percent by other vehicles involved in the crashes. There were 56 (43%) school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes between the ages of 5 and 7. (Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

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