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The big yellow bus

Mar 15, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

A school bus fire is disturbing beyond the level of the ordinary shop or car fire

Our page 1 story and picturesTuesdayof the fire at the school bus garage might have delivered a stronger punch for many readers than a typical fire story.

The school bus is one of America's great icons. Instantly recognizable, it's a symbol of endurance, dependability and familiarity.

Virtually every one of us has ridden a school bus. Many among us spent incalculable hours in the straight-backed seats, not just to school and back, but on field trips, sports trips, band trips, speech trips, club trips, trips of every sort and variety. Usually the thing all these kids, teams, clubs, teachers, coaches and sponsors all had in common was the big yellow bus. The door swinging open, the three steep steps up, the fragrant blast of warmth from the interior, the immediate sense of entering a self-contained world of its own - on wheels.

Amid an ever-changing world of growing complexity and fragmentation, the school bus is a comfortable image of consistency. School buses today look pretty much the same as they did generations ago. People of all ages recognize and identify with them. People like school buses.

One newspaper staff member we know has a home vantage point that offers a view of a semi-rural roadway at a distance of about a mile, slightly elevated. Each day when visibility permits and the calendar dictates, a school bus rumbles along, sometimes with its headlights beaming into winter-morning darkness, other times passing along a backdrop of green lawns and leafy trees.

The bus, of course, is yellow. Always yellow. School bus yellow.

These thoughts come to mind in the follow-up toMondaynight's fire at the School District 25 bus garage in Riverton. It's probably fair to say many hearts went out to that bus in its state of ruin. It's not something we like to see.

A school bus fire is serious business. Most who heard the news, saw our pictures, read our story, probably felt a pang of sorrow beyond what might be sparked by a car fire in a store parking lot, or a grass fire along the highway. When a symbol burns, the fire itself is symbolic.

As a practical matter, the fire serves as a reminder of why modern building codes are more than simple government interference. The fire-suppression sprinklers installed when the garage was enlarged a couple of years ago couldn't save the bus that burned, but they did spare the other 15 vehicles packed into the building like giant yellow sardines. They were off the road for a day, but they are back on the road today, doing their important duty.

We feel protective of our school buses. We count on them, and we want no harm to come to them. Perhaps it's because we know so well what they carry. Once it was us. Now it is our children.

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2017-10-22