CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Channel 9 investigation into school bus fires in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools uncovered that 100 percent of CMS buses inspected by the state this year had fire extinguishers that were past due for inspections.
Every day, bus drivers are supposed to inspect the bus before and after a trip, while district mechanics check all the buses every month.
One bus driver told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster that he still believes CMS is putting kids’ lives in danger by not pulling some buses off the road.
"I don't want (anything) to happen to the students," the driver, who did not want to be identified, said. He has serious concerns after two buses in CMS' fleet caught fire within the last few weeks.
The bus he drives every day is the same make and model as the two that caught fire. He fears he would not be able to get his nearly 60 elementary school kids off the bus if it caught fire.
"It's hard to get them off the bus with them freaking out, and you only have a matter of seconds to evacuate the bus before it goes off in flames," the bus driver said.
Eyewitness News pulled the state's most recent bus inspections for CMS and learned of the 104 of buses in a sample to be inspected, all of them had a fire extinguisher that was past due for an inspection. That does not mean they would not work, but the state told Channel 9 all were missing a yearly inspection tag required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
CMS also has a shortage in the maintenance department.
Now, there are eight vacant mechanic positions out of 42.
"There is a lot of overtime, but the important thing is we are not shortcutting anything," CMS chief operating officer Carol Stamper said.
The bus driver told Channel 9 he is also frustrated the district has not let drivers know of any issues or problems to look out for. He found out about the first bus fire from watching Channel 9.
“I'm a parent myself and I don't want my child to be on the same bus, type of bus, that's caught fire," he said.
Stamper said Wednesday some CMS leaders are thinking of a Plan B if the hundreds of buses that are the same make and model as the ones that caught fire have to pulled from the fleet. She said that would disrupt bus schedules.
Thomas, the company that built the buses that caught fire, had inspectors in Charlotte Wednesday. Foster asked a spokesperson if the company will send an alert nationwide. They said they couldn't comment until after an investigation is complete.
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