WATERBURY – If you are a driver or a monitor, or hold any other job at All-Star Transportation, then chances are you know Brenda Bass. She’s been with All-Star since its founding 14 years ago and during that time she’s trained most of the company’s drivers and monitors, served as a safety supervisor and performed a host of other critical duties, including an active role in company videos. Her current role is director of training.
“I was the company’s first safety supervisor,” she says, noting that her career in school transportation began 29 years when took a job in Wolcott as a bus driver with her then-four-month-old daughter tagging along.
“I drove in Wolcott for 11 years and during that time became a state-certified trainer,” she says. She began with Dattco and transitioned to Laidlaw after it acquired the Wolcott routes. In 1998, she was named the training center manager for Laidlaw in Bridgeport.
“I did all the classroom and new driver training. It was very busy,” she recalls. “In a summer, I would train 200 new drivers.”
From Bridgeport, she later moved to Laidlaw’s terminal in Torrington, where she was responsible for driver development and safety, investigating accidents and handling worker’s compensation. It was there she also met Richard Dufour, who was then the terminal’s manager, and who would later become one of the founders of All-Star Transportation.
“My office was in the same building as Richard’s. So, really, I was Richard’s safety person,” she says.
Her next assignment was in Hamden, where Laidlaw needed her as a dispatcher. She was there just a brief time before being reassigned to Fairfield, where she served as acting manager. It was while she was in Fairfield that she had her first contact with All-Star.
“Richard called me and asked me if I would be interested leaving Laidlaw. They (John Dufour, Richard Dufour and Leslie Sheldon) were going to start a new company, and they wanted me to be the safety person. I met with Leslie, and I decided it would be a good move for me to join a new company,” she explains. “So, I went back to Torrington, because when we started we were in Torrington.”
The company began with four locations during its first year – Torrington, Harwinton, New Milford and Washington – and then began expanding to its current level of 18 terminals. The company’s growth and success became too much for Bass to handle alone. Four other safety supervisors are now part of the team. Bass, in addition to her duties as director of training, continues to serve as the safety supervisor for Waterbury and Seymour, two of the company’s biggest terminals.
When asked what she considers to be her biggest challenge as the training director, she pauses and then carefully selects her words.
“The biggest challenge is to have drivers live up to the trust that parents put in us,” she says. “That’s someone’s baby on our bus. I try to get people right from the start to understand that. Driving the bus is a big responsibility, especially with all the distracted drivers out there and other road hazards. It’s the safety of the kids that matter.
“I talk a lot about that. How did you feel the first day when you put your baby on a bus and the doors closed and they drove off with your child? It’s a huge amount of trust that people are putting in us, and we have to focus on the job when we’re doing that job.”
Not surprisingly, school bus driver training has become much more involved to meet the public’s expectations. And in doing so, it has placed more demands on those who want to become drivers and those who train them.
“It’s nothing like it was when I first started,” Bass says. “When I started, it was five days of classroom and behind-the-wheel training all in one. I went down (to the motor vehicles department) and got a public service card, there was no CDL. I went back to the bus yard and told the manager that I got my public service license, and he said, ‘OK, here’s your route sheet, there’s the bus, go drive.’ There was no intense training and no CDL testing. And the requirements to get this job have changed, and all for the good. It’s a big job. It’s a big responsibility.”
As the head of training, Bass says her number one goal is to make everyone a safe driver. She’s now a master trainer, one of just a few in Connecticut, and she’s the chairperson of the safety committee for the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA).
“Most people have no idea what it takes to become a school bus driver. They see women driving buses around town, and they think, ‘How hard can that be?’ And then they get into class and they understand the responsibility that comes with that and the training that is required to get a license. It’s a lot more than some people want to do.”
But for those who persist and complete the training to become a school bus driver, the rewards are many, Bass says, citing her own experience as an example.
“I’m not an unusual case to be around for 29 years. There are a lot of drivers who have been around as long as me. That’s why people say we ‘bleed yellow.’ Once you get in, you don’t ever leave. It’s a really good job.”