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Happiness for Oak Harbor bus drivers is a warm motor

Oak Harbor School District director of transportation Francis Bagarella shows the pre-heaters recently installed under school buses to warm bus engines before they are started each morning. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor School District director of transportation Francis Bagarella shows the pre-heaters recently installed under school buses to warm bus engines before they are started each morning.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

Cold mornings will no longer eat up gallons of diesel fuel from idling buses thanks to a Department of Ecology grant that paid for “pre-heaters” for every school bus in the Oak Harbor School District.

The pre-heaters use timers to warm bus engines before they are started, which eliminates the need for idling.

The state Department of Ecology awarded a $156,000 grant, which covered the cost of each $3,600 unit plus installation costs for 40 buses, according to Francis Bagarella, Oak Harbor School District director of transportation.

“We want to reduce our emissions, that was our big concern,” Bagarella said.

With the pre-heaters, there will be no more burst of black and white smoke that comes with starting a cold diesel engine, Bagarella said.

It takes 15 minutes for the pre-heater to warm  the motor. While the pre-heaters use diesel fuel, they can run for hours before using one gallon, whereas if the bus has to be kept running, “it takes no time at all to go through gallons of diesel fuel,” Bagarella said.

“It keeps everything in a state of readiness so you’re ready to go,” Bagarella said.

The timer is set to heat the bus before the driver gets onboard and it can be set to only heat certain days of the week. A button on the dashboard makes it easy for drivers to turn the heater on and off.

“By the time the driver gets in, the windows are all defrosted,” Bagarella said.

Bagarella said he’s heard positive feedback from the drivers. They enjoy getting into warm buses in the morning, since temperatures are dipping into the 30s, and they appreciate the heater on field trips, especially when taking groups skiing, because the driver can stay warm without starting the engine.

“It’s really a nice little system,” Bagarella said.

Bagarella signed up to be alerted for any possible grant money when he attended a conference about green energy for buses. He was contacted about the Clean Diesel Grant, which is through Ecology’s Air Quality Program.

Two weeks after sending in the application, transportation was awarded the grant.

“The grant process wasn’t too challenging,” Bagarella said.

Thermo King Northwest, Inc. of Kent installed the pre-heaters at no cost to the district.

Anacortes, Everett and Mukilteo school districts received similar grants, Bagarella said.

“We’re always looking out for grants that will make our buses cleaner,” he said.

 

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