“A circus lion trainer who ventures into a cage full of lions may impress most people, but not school bus drivers,” Wheeler said.
“Our drivers literally do it each week of the school year with their only thought being the safety of their precious cargo.”
Wheeler is the senior school bus mechanic with the Douglas County Schools Transportation Department. The father of five knows the safety of students is a bus driver’s top priority — one that begins as soon as the child enters the bus and does not end until that child is safely back home.
The safe operation of Douglas County school buses has been the foundation of Wheeler’s 24 years with the transportation department, making him the longest-tenured bus mechanic in the division.
In fact, the safe transportation of Douglas County students is a family affair for Wheeler as his wife, Cindi, drives a special-needs school bus for the school system.
Because he is charged with overseeing a staff of 10 bus mechanics, Wheeler arrives at the school bus depot at 5:30 a.m. daily while school is in session.
Although he has welcomed many changes to school bus transportation during his two-plus decades with the division, such as school buses being converted from gas to diesel engines, he said he is anxious for the arrival of the newest Douglas County bus safety device, the safety arm camera system.
This safety system will photograph the license plates of drivers who fail to stop when they are behind, or are approaching, a school bus picking up or letting students off.
“There is no such thing as students being too safe on our buses,” Wheeler said. “When our school children are on our buses, they are our children and their safety is our responsibility, and we take that seriously.”
With a fleet of more than 300 buses, Wheeler estimated he and his staff work on more than 50 buses a week as well as making mandatory safety and operation inspection of the entire bus fleet every 29 days.
In addition to overseeing repairs to the buses, Wheeler is responsible for scheduling bus repairs and the availability of replacement parts.
“With regard to school bus operations and student safety, we are at the top of the list,” he said.