Bus drivers lack fire training
The bus fire last year that prompted the PTA investigation.

Perth bus drivers say many of them do not know how to use a fire extinguisher properly or how to evacuate their bus in the event of fire.

Concerns over on-the-job training for bus drivers emerged at yesterday's meeting of Transport Workers Union delegates convened to discuss recent fires on compressed natural gas-fuelled buses.

TWU State secretary Rick Burton said many drivers received basic training at their induction, but nothing more, so many of them were ill-equipped to handle a fire on their bus. "At the moment, the only advice to drivers and to passengers appears to be 'Run for your life'," Mr Burton said.

The Public Transport Authority said yesterday that the existing induction process included the use of fire extinguishers and evacuations.

But after yesterday's meeting - which was also attended by bus fleet manager Paul Burke - the PTA said it would ask bus companies to introduce refresher training for drivers. The PTA will also investigate the installation of fuel-isolation switches near the driver.

They are currently at the back of the buses. This change would be subject to Australian Design Rules and safety regulations.

Yesterday's 100-minute meeting came after documents obtained by _The West Australian _ this week showed there have been at least 13 fires on Perth's Mercedes-Benz OC500 LE buses in about five years.

All the buses are fuelled by CNG.

The most recent was a blaze on a bus in Bentley on Saturday and a fire that destroyed a bus in Munster in December. The PTA has also revealed another three incidents where potential fires were put out by a fire-suppression system.

Mr Burton said the meeting had ruled out strike action but the union would support any member who did not want to drive one of the buses because he or she felt unsafe.

"There was a lot of concern about these buses around the table, but ultimately we are happy with the steps being put in place by the PTA," Mr Burton said. "We acknowledge that the gas did not cause the fires, but it is important that gas lines are cut in the event of a fire. Having the kill switch near the dashboard makes sense.

"At the moment, drivers have to walk to the back of the bus to pull the lever, potentially putting themselves in more danger."

Mr Burton said the PTA had improved the fire suppression system in the buses by increasing the volume of suppressant and the time it took to be activated.

The West Australian

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