Finalists from WCSD’s three transportation yards looped and fastened chains around bus wheels in a fun contest designed to challenge young and veteran drivers to show their skills while placing emphasis on the need for such safety measures when cold Nevada elements begin.
“This really is a fun event that we use to stress safety during winter driving conditions during our annual bus driver training,” said Rick Martin, director of transportation for the WCSD. “We have beautiful weather today but that cold season is just around the corner and in Nevada we know it can change quickly. We need to be sure we are ready to take necessary care of our students when the time for chaining up comes.”
Martin discussed the tactics used by he and his staff to make “judgments” during the school year on when to delay or cancel school based on collaborations with city and county services, law enforcement agencies and the National Weather Service. He said the decision is usually made by 4:30 a.m. on stormy nights or mornings, which then executes a new plan throughout WCSD for notifying students and parents and ensuring no safety is being compromised.
Tracy Moore, WCSD emergency manager, said bus drivers play a “critical role” in student safety and said their responsibility to safety is above all else.
“When the time changes in November and it becomes darker and colder in the mornings, safety is going to be the most important thing,” Moore said. “From the bus stop in the morning to returning the kids home after school, that is our number one priority. I have so much respect for (bus drivers) because so much responsibility falls on (them).”
Constant cheering came from a crowd of local bus drivers and WCSD personnel as the three finalists rushed to complete their chain installations during the competition. In the end, Donald Bailie, a driver from the central transportation yard based in Sparks, hoisted the first-place trophy with a time of 5:38. Dave Reese, south yard, and Richard Wiltermood, north yard, rounded out the scoring with times of 7:33 and 8:02, respectively.
Bailie said all bus drivers are faced with challenges in the Washoe County, not just those facing the slope on Mount Rose Highway. Having driven in Sparks, he said it comes with its share of treacherous roadways.
“We have buses that leave our central yard by Wild Waters and go all the way out to Pyramid Lake, Palomino Valley, Hungry Valley, above Spanish Springs High School – there are plenty of places where we need to chain the tires,” Bailie said after his victory. “It’s not as bad as Mount Rose, but we still have some tight areas.”
Bailie said the spirit and competitive nature of the event only adds to the amount of safety knowledge he and his fellow drivers consume. He said as a driver you must be ready for any distractions, from terrible weather conditions to other motorists.
“The reason we have hours and hours of training is because that safety is so important to us,” he said. “Some drivers in their cars only clear a hole in the ice they can see through (in their windshield) and they are not paying attention to the things they should be for safety. They don’t have a full view on it.
“Being in a bus, we are up higher and we can see a little bit better. With the chains on, it will help you prevent a lot of accidents. It may not prevent every accident, but it will add to your safety and other driver’s safety on the road.”
A new event to the annual competition featured two drivers from the central transportation yard, Yeny Portillo-Cruz and Joyce MacArthur, who operate the ADA-specific buses in WCSD. Both women secured a wheel-chaired person, from the ground and up into the bus, with Portillo-Cruz coming in at 2:53 and MacArthur behind her at 3:14.
As the snowy conditions approach, Washoe County residents will be able to access the Parent Hotline at 334-8387, the WCSD website at www.washoeschools.org and the district’s Twitter and Facebook pages for information on school delays or cancellations. All communication efforts occur before 6 a.m. for parents to plan their day.
Delayed starts for WCSD schools will postpone start times for two hours, which includes a two-hour delay on bus routes. Kindergarten and latch-key programs will be canceled.
School closures in WCSD cease all classes and programs for the day at every school.