COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - May 9, 2017, was a terrifying morning for District Five Schools of Spartanburg County Superintendent Dr. Scott Turner.
Back in May, a bus in his district caught fire, and somehow, one of his drivers managed to get everyone out safely.
"When I arrived on the scene, it was completely engulfed in flames, and my heart sank," Dr. Turner said with a trembling, emotional tone." I've never
felt that way before."
The bus in question was a 1995 Thomas Type D. At one point, the state had thousands on the road. Now, 900 remain, and State Superintendent Molly Spearman says that's 900 too many.
"They're 21 – now 22 – years old. They've served us well, but they're worn out," she said. "We had several heat/fire issues last year."
While Spearman waits for more funding to replace them – funding that's still uncertain – her department used the summer break to install 2,000 fire alarms on those rear-engine buses. Spearman said it was a necessary $1.1 million expenditure.
An extra precaution," she said. "And with the additional inspection to be sure that we're not putting any buses out there that we know have potential
problems. We won't do that, and we're watching these buses very carefully."
Back in Spartanburg County, Dr. Turner hopes the fire alarms are just a short-term fix before a long-term solution.
"Is it playing with fire?" WIS asked him.
"Literally. Yes. It is playing with fire," he answered. "I mean because the number of these events that continue to happen across our state with this
series of buses. People cannot turn their head any longer and say we're going to... It's just...To me, it's unconscionable."
Dr. Turner said there's hardly a school day that goes by where one of his buses doesn't have some kind of mechanical problem, which leads to doubling
He said parents need to call their lawmakers and tell them to come back and pass a solution, even if it means a special session. By the way, Thomas Built Buses told WIS it's unaware of any design-related issues causing those fires.