MVC Shuttle fire sparks concern

The University is investigating the cause of a fire that gutted a new Mount Vernon Shuttle bus late Tuesday night.

Officials from Mount Vernon Campus Life, which assumed control of the shuttle service from University Police three days before the blaze, said they are making every effort to ensure student safety. The University is working with D.C.-based International Limousine, which contracts the buses to GW, to determine the cause of fire.

“International Limo flew in manufacturers of the vehicle (from the Midwest) to inspect all 10 of the vehicles like the one which caught fire,” said Robert Snyder, director of Mount Vernon Campus Life. The transportation company, which is responsible for maintenance of the vehicles, is performing daily inspections on all shuttles.

An International Limousine employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Hatchet there had been an unspecified malfunction on a Mount Vernon Shuttle bus over the summer. But Snyder said nothing like Tuesday night’s blaze had previously occurred.

“We believe this was an isolated incident,” Snyder said. “We have never had anything like this happen before.”

Snyder expressed concern because the bus involved in the incident was new. He said nine similar vehicles used by the University have been taken out of service.

“It had only been in service for three months,” he said. “After the fire, International Limo immediately pulled the other vehicles of the same make.”

International Limo officials declined to comment on the probable cause of the fire or its maintenance procedures.

At about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night, a driver of the Mount Vernon Shuttle stopped his bus after hearing a strange noise. Metropolitan Police officials said the driver started the bus again, but soon saw smoke coming out of the bus and evacuated the more than 20 students riding on the shuttle.

Students reported that about 10 minutes after evacuating, the vehicle burst into flames and burned until firefighters extinguished the blaze at 12:15 a.m. No one was injured in the blaze.

Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. fire department, said he had no knowledge of Tuesday night’s incident.

William O’Donnell, a private fire inspection expert, said bus fires happen for a variety of reasons, including gas leaks and electrical malfunctions. O’Donnell, of O’Donnell Consulting Engineers in Pittsburgh, Pa., said bus fires spread easily because of the vehicle’s vinyl seats, carpets and plastic gas tank.

“Most of the stuff in the vehicle is pretty flammable,” O’Donnell said. “In fact if there is a fire, don’t stop to get your wallet. Just get the hell out of there.”

He said bus fires are difficult to investigate because “vehicle fires don’t leave a pattern. Sometimes you walk up to a car and you can’t tell anything about it,” he said. “Vehicle fires are very hard to solve.”

Some Mount Vernon residents are questioning the safety of GW’s shuttle fleet.

“I definitely thought about what happened when I boarded the bus this morning,” said Nicole Wetherell, a freshman who was on the bus when it caught fire.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.