A Safe Ride
Plainfield School Vehicle Mechanics Work to Keep Students Safe
Though Dean Shepard earned a degree in elementary education, he initially pursued a career in retail management for a number of years. In 2006 however, he began working for the Plainfield Community School Corporation as a substitute bus driver. After a year of subbing, he began driving his own route. Shepard also set up the corporation’s routing software.
“I worked in the office during the day and drove in the mornings and afternoons,” says Shepard, who grew to love his job with the school system.
Five years ago he became the assistant to the director of transportation before moving into the director position last year. In this role he’s responsible for route drivers, substitute drivers, office staff, bus aides and mechanics – a total of 58 people.
Every day the corporation utilizes 40 buses, along with two activity buses, which means those vehicles have to be serviced daily to keep them running smoothly.
“Our two mechanics are pretty much responsible for the entire fleet,” Shepard says.
Those mechanics, Jon Morris and Tyler Hecht, are notified by staff bus drivers if there is a light out, a strange engine noise, or another malfunction. The mechanics troubleshoot issues, plow snow from the parking lots during inclement weather, and repair other onsite school vehicles like the pickup truck used to spread salt in the winter and lawn care equipment. If a driver calls in sick at the last minute, they may even hop on a bus and drive a route.
Morris has worked in school transportation for 14 years. Hecht started in 2014. While in school at Lincoln Tech, Hecht had many conversations with his instructors about potential job opportunities in the diesel industry.
“It was during these discussions that I decided I wanted to pursue a career at a school corporation working on school buses,” Hecht says.
Morris chose to pursue a career in school transportation because of the stable work environment and high standards that school leaders typically require.
“I enjoy the challenge, the people I work with, and knowing that I’m helping the community of Plainfield,” he says.
The morning schedule typically involves Hecht arriving first, usually around 6 a.m. Soon after, the bus drivers arrive and do their pre-trip bus inspections. If there is an issue with red or yellow lights, tires or something else, they let Hecht know so he can get to work on fixing it.
Hecht and Morris are responsible for getting the buses started, so on frigid mornings they come in early to warm up buses to be sure they are running smoothly before the drivers arrive. The mechanics perform routine preventative maintenance on each bus, including changing oil, changing filters and replacing worn brakes. In the afternoon, as drivers return, they inspect the buses again.
Morris or Hecht have to go see what’s wrong if a bus breaks down during a driver’s route. They either repair it onsite or bring it back to the garage for repairs.
“They are not as reliable as cars,” Shepard says. “You figure we drive them in the mornings and afternoons – not as many miles as some of our vehicles, but we are braking all the time. That’s why one of the more common issues buses have is belts breaking. All of our buses have air brakes so if you lose a belt, then you’re not building air pressure so the bus can’t go anywhere.”
State law requires that school buses pass an Indiana State Police bus inspection.
“There is a 175-page inspection manual put out by the state police that outlines everything they look at,” Shepard says. “Last year we scored 100% – the highest of any school system in the county. Every year we score 100% or pretty close.”
The reason they consistently rate so high is because they stay on top of inspections and repairs throughout the year.
“Jon and Tyler have a good system of going through the buses when they do their preventative maintenance, so when it comes to inspection time, we don’t have to fix a bunch of things,” Shepard says. “It’s constantly making sure everything is in safe working order year-round. After all, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of safety if your bus is only safe right before the state police look at it. It needs to be safe all the time.”
Hecht says ensuring student safety is the best part of his job.
“Even though our state inspections can be a stressful time of year for us, it is also one of the most rewarding,” he says. “It’s a great feeling knowing that you did your job to the best of your ability and got one of, if not the highest, ranking in the county.”
Shepard is pleased to work with a dedicated staff that is committed to giving their best.
“They have so much responsibility in their jobs to keep the students safe,” Shepard says. “I’m proud to be part of the team.”