Driving school buses for over two decades, Gene Brahaney has never had to wear a mask

Article & Images by Sue Dickens, Trent Hills Now Editor

School bus driver Gene Brahaney has been safely transporting children to school for the past 25 years but he is the first to admit that the ramifications of the pandemic of 2020 are something he has never experienced.

The protocols due to COVID-19 mean both he and the schoolchildren will be required to wear face masks with the exception of children in Kindergarten to Grade 3 who will be encouraged to but not required to wear non-medical face masks in indoor spaces.

Brahaney said, “We have to wear a mask. We can’t wear a shield.  I prefer the shield but they say there’s a visibility issue.”

Brahaney, who drives for Ames Coach Lines of Campbellford, says he practised wearing a face mask for a few weeks.

He has already completed a refresher CPR training course and he and the other drivers got together recently to meet the manager of Ames, to go over the details required to ensure safety during the pandemic.

When asked to drive again this year, Brahaney never hesitated.

“I think all our 16 or 17 drivers are back this year,” he said.

 “It’s mainly an older crowd of drivers because if you’re retired you’ve got time to drive a bus whereas if you’re working you can’t but our drivers come from all ages and all walks of life,” he said.

“I’ve got the same route I’ve had for quite a few years now,” he told Trent Hills Now. That bus route he has will see him transporting children of all ages attending several different schools.

It is Brahaney’s job as a driver to phone up the parents of the students who will be on his bus, to find out just how many he will be transporting.

At times “It’s been over 50 children,” he noted, but he doesn’t anticipate there to be the same number this year as some students will be staying home for online learning.

He already started transporting children to St. Mary Catholic School (in Campbellford), where classes started this week, Thursday and Friday.

On Mon., Sept. 14, he will be adding the public school children to his route. As his bus is a transfer bus it means he will be stopping on the west side of town, where many students transfer from to other buses that take them to Campbellford District High School, St. Mary Catholic School and Hillcrest Public School.

“I’m a transfer bus for French immersion too. Any student that wants to be in French immersion has to go to the Hillcrest,” he noted.

Brahaney talked about the protocols that must be followed for loading and unloading of students.

“The kids who get on first go to the back of the bus and then they unload from the front,” he said.

“That is a stark change because historically the high school kids always sat at the back and the Kindergarten kids sat up front,” he explained.

“This year the way my route is the Kindergarten-age children will be on the very back seats because they’re my first pickup.”

This year also because of the pandemic, “After every departure we return to the bus depot and the bus is cleaned by fogging it inside, before the next trip,” he explained.

“Ames has this machine that they use and it’s fantastic. And then there is more deep cleaning where the driver has a job to do also where we have to wipe down the steering wheel and the railings after every trip,” he added.

Brahaney admits driving a school bus during the pandemic does concern him. “You know my story about my grandparents dying in the Spanish flu,” he noted, adding, “Here in Northumberland we’ve been very fortunate (in terms of the low number of cases of COVID-19).”

In an interview with him earlier this year, Brahaney had talked about the Spanish Flu. “It’s a personal thing with me,” he said because this respiratory disease (COVID-19) has drawn comparisons to the deadliest pandemic in human history – the Spanish Flu of 1918. It killed anywhere from 20 million to 50 million people – estimates vary widely – and two of its victims were Brahaney’s grandparents, Eugene and Elizabeth Brahaney.  

They were in their early 50s living in Campbellford when both became ill. His grandmother had been caring for his grandfather when the flu took her life. “The very next day he died,” he said.

Brahaney, who is also a Trent Hills councillor, commented on the problems created during locally during this pandemic as people crowd public places including Crowe River Bridge Park (which had to be closed after a failed trial opening) and the area at Healey Falls, where people gathered.

“There has been no respect for social distancing,” he noted.

Social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask in enclosed areas are all part of the safety measures during the current pandemic.

Brahaney’s bus run this year will take him about 1 12 hours from start to finish and all that time he is in charge of the safe transport of the students. He commented, “If the kids aren’t keeping their face masks on are you supposed to remind them.”

Face masks will be available from the bus drivers if the student does not have one. “We’re going to have masks available if somebody forgets…and it’s going to be – No mask. No busing.  – (unless there is a medical reason for not wearing a mask).”

When asked if he has ever seen challenges like this during his time as a school bus driver, Brahaney replied, “Never.”

He concluded by saying, “There’s a lot of apprehension about going back to school, but I think it’s the right thing.”

Editor’s Note: Recently the Catholic School Board (PVNC) sent out a memo saying that some bus routes in Norwood were unexpectedly cancelled affecting 243 students because of bus service disruptions. Student Transportation Services of Central Ontario it is claimed in the school board release, “is advising that some local bus companies have had difficulty hiring and retaining drivers during the pandemic, an issue that many transportation consortiums across Ontario are facing.”



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