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Inspections keep children safe

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RONAN — Each time a child makes it home safely on a school bus in Montana, thank a Highway Patrol trooper. When they aren’t out taking bad guys off the streets or clearing wreckage from state highways, the troopers provide an often overlooked, yet essential, task for school safety: inspection of public school buses.

“It’s more than doing wrecks and more than doing DUI stops,” Ronan School District Superintendent Andy Holmlund said on Friday, Dec. 27 as Trooper Shad Andersen, armed with a clipboard, worked his way through 21 buses in the Ronan fleet. “They inspect every bus in the state for free, but they don’t ever get any kudos for it … If you think of all the buses across the state, that’s a lot of effort.”

The biannual inspections required for every school bus are extensive.

“The Highway Patrol checks all safety items: all the lights, clearance lights, horns, backup lights, horn, bright light indicator on dash panel, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, body fluid kits,” Ronan School District Transportation Coordinator Rob Tougas said.“The heaters have to work. Interior lights work, horn works. They look for corrosion on the battery maybe, and the tread depth on the tires … It’s not easy to pass.”

In Ronan, a team of transportation personnel works throughout the year to keep buses in tip-top shape in anticipation of the inspections. In the five years Tougas has worked for Ronan, only three buses have needed a re-inspection necessary to get the vehicles back on the road.

Troopers coordinate their busy schedules with school districts to organize the inspections. Because there are only five troopers in Lake County, sometimes wrecks or other emergencies interrupt the methodical process.

On Friday, the inspections went smoothly, as Trooper Andersen walked up and down the aisles, lifting all seven emergency exits along the way, making sure they buzzed loudly. The bus pulled forward and backward, and then Andersen signaled for Tougas to activate every light on the vehicle. Doors were opened, windshields wipers swashed and stop signs deployed.

“Let’s see the next one,” Andersen said as the process continued and hundreds of tiny components were examined in a three-hour time span.

For the troopers, it is simply one of many tasks they are asked to perform.

“It’s something we just do,” Sgt. Jim Sanderson of the Kalispell Montana Highway Patrol Office said. “We inspect every bus in the state.” 

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