School Bus Driver Extrication

Consider this scenario: Your crew gets the call for a school bus crash, and upon arrival, you find heavy frontal damage that’s pinning the driver inside. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the techniques to extricate the victim while keeping in mind the construction specifics of types C and D school buses.

I’ve touched on this topic briefly in past articles, blog posts and via pictures; however, there’s more to share. My drive to transfer this information from my thoughts to an article was re-energized recently while I was presenting at the School Transportation News Expo in Reno, Nev. During that presentation, I showed the audience a couple pictures of school buses with heavy frontal damage, and as I did so, I noticed there were looks of great concern on the faces of the attendees. With a little explanation of the techniques being used, however, they were encouraged by the forethought that rescuers put into these situations.

Construction Differences
There are four types of bus construction (A, B, C, D); however, I’ll focus on types C and D throughout this article. (Note: Many of the type C construction features can be found on type B buses and the techniques discussed will apply.)

All school buses are built like tanks, primarily to protect the passengers during a variety of collision types. But there are some easily distinguishable differences and other pertinent, yet not-so-obvious features among them. First, the type C school bus has an engine compartment that resembles the engine compartment of a car, the major difference being that it’s just a bit larger. The hood is not reinforced material, so it will crumple under stress. The other obvious construction identifier: The front entry door is behind the front wheels. 

The type D school bus resembles a city charter-style bus where the front entry door is located in front of the front wheels. These buses are frequently referred to as “flat-nose” buses since the engine compartment is not located in front of the windshield.

In the sections that follow, driver access will be obstructed from the passenger-side main entry door. The goal: to show a difficult scenario for victim rescue and access.

Type C Techniques
In type C school buses, the steering column goes through the firewall and into the engine compartment. This construction feature is especially important to recognize, as it resembles that of a passenger car. Think about the techniques we use to extricate pinned drivers of passenger cars: door removal, dash roll, dash lift, brake pedal displacement/cut, etc. Now on a type C school bus with no access to the passenger-side entry door, we’ll have to be a bit more creative. Note: The options listed are not in any particular order and will ultimately depend on your equipment cache.

Option 1: Remove the window adjacent to the driver’s seat and then use a Sawzall to cut down the side wall. Tip: Be sure to stay inside the A and B posts, which will ultimately mean less metal to cut. Often, there will also be some sort of electrical panel in this area and maybe even an access door; if this is the case, remove the panel and access door. Your goal is to open up a space large enough to position a ram between the A and B posts. During the extension of the ram, you will see the A post, dashboard and steering column displace in an outward direction.

Options 2 and 3: Remember using the old spreaders to roll the dash of a passenger car? You can set up your hydraulic spreaders to perform this technique on type C school buses, or you can use a chain come-along. Just keep in mind that the hoods on these buses will crumple with the added pressure, so cribbing will be necessary to prevent your tools from binding.

Type D Techniques
In the type D school bus, the steering column goes through the floor, since there’s no firewall into the engine compartment. During training we tried to displace the steering column in the same manner as we did in the type C bus, without success. Photos 5 and 6 show what we attempted, but notice where the steering column is positioned after we extended the ram—it didn’t move at all. The A post and windshield displacement in picture 6 can be deceiving with regards to the actual movement we were hoping to achieve.

The most readily available option for most of us when working with type D buses is to use the hydraulic spreaders in a similar, but different manner than on the type C bus. Without the hood to help with tool placement, you’ll have to attach one chain around the steering column and attach another chain to the frame underneath. Then, open your spreader fully and use chain hooks to grab the chains from the steering column and frame. Note: Placement of the spreader is important because it’s possible to torque the spreader arms if an in-line pull is not set up. Use cribbing to align the angle of pull. If available, you can use a chain come-along in place of the spreader.

Techniques for Both
Although we’ve trained with wrecker operators on the following technique, I’ll be the first to say that the stars and moon would have to align perfectly for it to happen. First, we’d have to call for a heavy wrecker early, they would have to get to the scene quickly, and ample space would have to be available at the location so that another big rig could get into position.

If you get to this point in your rescue, and it very well may be plan C or D, it’s possible for heavy wreckers to displace the steering column and dash with little movement other than what you want to move. The key: to position the wrecker so the front of the bus can be chained down. Next, wrap a chain around the school bus’s steering column and connect it to the wrecker’s chain that comes off the boom. Once in position and the cable is tensioned, the wrecker operator and rescue boss can coordinate the displacement needed for victim extrication.

A Final Word
If a school bus driver is entrapped in the wreckage of their vehicle, a significant collision has most likely occurred. The construction and extrication techniques discussed in this article are just the tip of the school bus extrication iceberg. Be sure to check out other training resources, visit your local bus garage and attend a hands-on school bus extrication training.