Records: WCPSS bus that caught fire day of inspection had many past troubles with air conditioning

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Maintenance records are shedding more light on how a Wake County Public Schools System bus caught fire hours after leaving the repair shop.

CBS 17 was the first to report Monday at 6 p.m. that the bus had just inspected.

The records are broken down into two categories. Every school bus is required by the state to undergo preventive maintenance every 30 days. The other records include work orders, parts orders, and work performed.

A record of the last 30-day inspection shows the bus was cleared for use at 3:14 p.m. on Oct. 3. About an hour and a half later, at approximately 4:20 p.m., the bus caught fire while carrying a student from Highcroft Elementary school.

Neither the student nor bus driver were hurt during that incident.

So, why did the bus catch fire?

WCPSS said the preliminary results of an investigation indicate there was a failure in the air conditioning system. The district also said the bus had been taken off the road during the summer for repairs.

Records indicate the bus was serviced several times for engine issues.

In May 2018, it was reported as overheating. In May 2019, documents indicated mechanics were called because the bus wouldn’t start. In June, the report said the bus needed a jump start.

A CBS 17 review of maintenance records indicated it had a history of problems with its air conditioner and trouble with oil leaks.

According to the records, almost every month the bus underwent routine inspections, problems with the air conditioning were written up.

  • In June, it was noted the A/C didn’t work
  • In May, the A/C was noted as running warm
  • In April, the rear A/C unit was flagged for not working
  • In March, the A/C was noted as inoperable
  • In February, the A/C was noted as running warm
  • In November and December 2018, the A/C was also noted as running warm

The bus also had issues with leaking oil.

In October and December of 2018, oil leaks were noted and referred for service.

In its last inspection, on the day the bus caught fire, the monthly report was noted that oil was seeping between the engine and transmission.

Oil and other fluids collecting in an engine compartment can be problematic, according to an engineer who designs fire suppression systems for things like school buses.

“If you are not cleaning off those fuels periodically, they build up. And once you combine that buildup with the extreme amount of heat from a turbocharger, you’ll run into an issue,” explained Marc Dinovo, who is a senior applications engineer at Firetrace International.

The investigation into that school bus fire is now being conducted by the State Department of Public Instruction.

As for the bus itself, it was so badly damaged that WCPSS said it will not be returning to service.

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