HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County School District transports more than 20,000 kids on a daily basis to and from school.
That takes a lot of coordination, manpower, and, of course, buses. Some of its buses are more than 20 years old. On top of that, the district doesn't have as many buses this year as they did the year before as leaders attempt to update the fleet.
Recently, two buses transporting children began smoking.
The first incident happened February 2.
Students from Myrtle Beach Primary and Elementary were evacuated when the bus caught fire.
Jim Wright, the transportation director for the Horry County School District, says mechanics determined a short in a dimmer switch melted a few wires, sparking the fire.
The second issue was February 4.
Kids from Riverside Elementary had to be evacuated when the bus started smoking.
In this case, mechanics determined the turbo in the engine went out. In both issues, no one was hurt and they immediately took the buses to the shop.
The district's department said it would love to have all new buses to try and avoid enforceable accidents like this. But updating the fleet is costly and takes time, partly because the fleet is made up of state and county issued buses.
The state provides a fleet of buses for each South Carolina school district to transport kids who live further than 1.5 miles from school.
"So if we want to provide that service in Horry County, we have to provide that on our buses to be able to do that. Back in 1995 or so, our board said that's what it's going to do, which was a very good decision. And it was the right thing to do. Majority of our population live around within a mile and a half of the school," said Wright.
Each and every morning, drivers meticulously check the buses for leaks, faults, or warning signs. The checks make sure school kids stay safe, even if they're riding on older buses.
Last year was the first year Wright made a proposal to help update the fleet of buses for the district. The school board approved and purchased 10 buses to try and help start the cycle to replace the county buses. But to keep this cycle going, they have to make a proposal every year.
So in the meantime, the focus is to maintain the buses in the district.
There are three different shops of mechanics maintaining the buses. And every day, each bus has to pass an inspection before going out on a morning route and after coming back in the afternoon. The driver has to go through a very detailed checklist.
"Any defects that they see, they mark on the sheet and we scan that to the mechanics. The mechanics come out and check the vehicle. There's certain things that we call "down items". Like the lights don't work. You know, something major. Well, that bus is parked and we take a spare bus. So we don't ever put a bus out there that's unsafe...even with the age of the vehicles," says Wright.
All buses also have to pass consistent 30-day checkups and annual inspections. Once passed, the buses are then given an inspection sticker proving that they are safe.