What are the possible Whatcom impacts of the national recall of 53,528 school buses?

More than two-thirds of the school buses in Bellingham Public School’s fleet could be affected by a recall announced by Thomas Built Buses last month to fix a problem with seats that don’t meet federal regulations for leg protection in the event of a crash.

The recall, which will potentially impact 53,528 buses nationwide, was filed Oct. 4 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigations.

There have not been any reports of injuries due to the defect, according to the recall notice, and official notifications are scheduled to be sent out Dec. 2.

Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson Dana Smith told The Bellingham Herald that though it will not know exactly how many of its buses will be recalled until the official notices are received, preliminary information suggests 54 of the district’s 79 buses could be impacted.

“It is also our understanding that the buses will be able to remain in service and ... our system of operations will allow us to address the recall issues without affecting our service to students and families,” Smith told The Herald.

The issue, according to the recall notice, is that certain seatbacks were made with styrene blocks that may not meet the requirements of S5.3.2 of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222, which sets standards for school bus passenger seating and crash protection, particularly in the leg protection zone.

The recall will affect Thomas Built School Buses equipped with SynTec S3B seats manufactured between 2014 and 2019 and S3C RTR seats manufactured between 2013 and 2019.

The defect was initially found in March, after a report from Transport Canada found non-complying test results on two of four seats tested for knee foam impact, the recall statement said.

The fix for the problem, the recall states, is installing additional impact material between the re-bond back and the vinyl back cover to bring the seats into compliance.

Other Whatcom County districts

Ferndale School District: The district has two Thomas Built buses in service, but they are from 2007 and 2010 and are not part of the recall, district spokesperson Erin Vincent told The Herald.

Lynden School District: The district owns 11 Thomas Built buses made since 2014 that may be impacted, Transportation Supervisor Shane Stanfill told The Herald, and the district will work with its service partners to complete any required service work. “It is too early at this point to know if there may be a service impact,” Stanfill said.

Meridian School District: The district has five buses in its fleet of 21 that could potentially be recalled, Superintendent James Everett told The Herald. He added that the district will not know about service impacts until the recall notices are received.

Mount Baker School District: The district had a recall on five buses and they have all been repaired by the company, Director of Facilities and Transportation Cameron Johnson told The Herald.

The Blaine and Nooksack Valley school districts did not reply to The Herald’s requests about buses.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.