Nevada State Director Says New School-Bus Fire Safety Law Is Unnecessary

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While state lawmakers recognized the “School Bus Fire Safety Bill” at a Las Vegas elementary school this week, Diana Hollander, state director of pupil transportation, said she would not join in the celebration.

Adoption of SB 318 makes Nevada the second state to update this specific school bus standard, after Maryland, which passed a nearly identical law that also goes into effect July 1, 2014. Nevada bill sponsors Sens. David Parks and Mark Manendo attended the event, along with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue officials.

This law requires all new school buses to have V-0 classification plastic in the engine compartment that meets the Standards for Safety UL 94 and have fire-block seating. Fire-block seat upholstery must meet the ASTM E1537 “Standard Test Method for Fire Testing of Upholstered Furniture” and the School Bus Seat Upholstery Fire Block Test established by the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, adopted at the 2010 National Congress on School Transportation, per the bill.

Hollander said the new law is unnecessary because school bus manufacturers already comply with the NCST recommendations. Also, the “fire-block” materials referenced in the bill relate to furniture used in “public occupancies,” such as prisons and nursing homes, rather than in vehicles.

“School buses are the most federally regulated vehicles on the road. They’re the safest vehicles as well. It’s a non-issue,” said Hollander.

She also said that representatives of Citizens for Fire Safety have visited several states, including Nevada, “to promote their product” via this legislation. The organization’s website states that it is a nonprofit coalition of fire professionals, industry leaders, educators, fire departments, doctors, etc., but Hollander said that it is simply a “special interest group.”

“Feds already have fire-safe seats on school buses. Here you have a chemical company going to legislators in the name of school safety, presenting that school buses aren’t safe enough,” she said, adding that the group’s fire-block materials used to cover passenger seating also contain “toxic” chemicals that could pose an even greater threat to student safety if these fumes were inhaled.

At the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference in Cincinnati last month, Hollander and Maryland state director Leon Langley gave a presentation on the need for oversight on similar bills, which has caused confusion in Maryland and skepticism within the industry.

“This is another piece of legislation that makes people feel good and doesn’t accomplish anything,” she continued. “We won’t be following these standards in 2014. We’ll be issuing waivers to school districts. It’s what we have to do.”

The waivers will help Nevada school districts that are now in a tight spot because, she explained, there is no way to purchase a school bus that adheres to the standards set forth in the new law. She said she spoke with the vehicle OEMs, for example, and none of them are offering the required plastic components.

“We order engine component parts, but we don’t have any say about what that standard is. If we went out and tried to buy something that met this standard, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Hollander said.

The law Maryland passed earlier this year originally included the same requirement that each plastic component contained in the engine compartment of a school bus “shall meet a V-0 classification when tested in accordance with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Standards for Safety UL 94” — but that provision was deleted.