By Tim Leeds
National School Bus Safety Week was Oct. 15-21, but safety happens all year round at the Havre Public Schools Transportation Department.
"We are very proud of our preventive maintenance," said Ginger Zanto, director of the department. "Those men work very hard and stick by it."
The department ensures safety on the buses in a variety of ways, including the maintenance, teaching bus safety and evacuation to the students and training the drivers in a variety of areas.
Teaching the students is currently underway. Zanto said the bus drivers are trained in various student safety and evacuation, then take part in working with the students. The classes and drills took place at Highland Park Elementary School on Oct. 16, and are scheduled at Lincoln-McKinley Elementary School tomorrow and at Sunnyside Elementary School Thursday, with Devlin Elementary School scheduled for Nov. 7. The drills will take place at the middle school in December.
The training takes place as part of the student's physical education classes, with a review of bus safety, then the evacuation drill on an actual bus.
Zanto said the drivers are trained and evaluated in a variety of areas. There are 35 part-time drivers who cover 17 regular routes every school day, provide relief drivers and drive the over-the-road coach buses for trips out of town. She said they have an extensive video training library, and train the drivers in areas including safety data information, blood-borne pathogens and student management.
She said they are required to conduct drug testing on their drivers, as any organization employing people with commercial drivers licenses is.
She said the drivers try very, very hard to receive the district's safe driver award, a pin given to drivers with an accident-free year. She said they currently have drivers ranging from one accident-free year to 23 years of safe driving.
"They take quite a bit of pride in getting the pin," she said, "and they think it's pretty special."
Zanto said they have an extensive schedule of maintenance for the buses in the district. There are 21 black-and-yellow school buses and three over-the-road buses maintained by the district, from several different manufacturers, and Zanto said each model has its own set of recommended maintenance given by the manufacturer. She said they have carefully scheduled maintenance for each bus according to the recommendations, and the staff of the bus garage takes great care in ensuring the safety and quality of each bus.
Zanto said they receive manufacturer's recalls of buses fairly regularly, and take immediate action if needed. Several models of buses were recalled earlier this year, but the Havre district does not use any of the models affected.
Zanto said there was a serious recall issue several years ago due to a gap between the handrail and the side of the bus on many models. She said articles of clothing would get caught in the gap, causing injuries and even deaths in the nation. While no students in Havre were injured, Zanto said they immediately modified the district's buses to eliminate the gap and prevent any injuries.
The department is holding an open house for the community on Nov. 16. from 7 to 8 p.m. at the bus garage by the Havre Middle School. Zanto said there will be a drawing for a prize; they will be telling parents about the safety rules and why they have them, and will offer rides to the parents on the district's buses.