School Bus Roll-Over Pinning

This past week at BGSU’s State Fire School  ( we spent a great deal of time in the Heavy Rescue class focusing on lifting.  For this post, I am going to show some options for lifting a rolled over school bus that is pinning a victim.  Your thoughts might be gravitating towards the use of airbags, but what other options do you have?  When making a rescue you need to be fast and safe.


  • School buses weigh upwards to 12 tons, but in this type of situation you are not lifting that entire weight.
  • We need to lift enough to get the victim out.
  • We are not trying to upright the school bus.
  • Always remember to crib as you go, if we move the load an inch, we crib an inch.


The use of airbags during a lift is one of the more common methods to use, but may not always be the fastest.  For this evolution, we used overturned step chocks, wedges, and cribbing to fill the void spaces.  Two airbags were inserted under the school bus frame above the windows on either side of the victim.  Coordination between firefighters on the cribbing and on the airbag controls is a must.

If your airbag system is capable, you may want to place three airbags in series.  By placing a bag on either side of the victim and another towards the engine compartment, you will create an even more stable and powerful lift.

High-Lift Jacks

High-Lift Jack

Another option to consider is the use of high-lift jacks for rescuing this victim.  If for some reason your airbags aren’t on scene or maybe you don’t have airbags, we can revert back to basic hand tools.  Most high-lift jacks have a capacity of around 4000 pounds.  We can make this lift with one, but two jacks will make it a little easier.  Firefighters should be well schooled in the operations of the high-lift jack prior to performing these maneuvers.

You need to know the construction of school buses and that there are two stringers running front to back in the roof that intersect each bow.  The roof bows are continuous to the floorboard on each side of the bus.

If an opening (4”x4”) in the roof is made just below the lower stringer, we can insert a high-lift jack.  This placement provides a strong area to make the lift.  Put two jacks in if you have them and the time to make it happen.


You can use wedges to make this lift and successfully extricate the victim.  This is a basic technique on a big vehicle.  It will take coordination of the lift teams on either side of the victim and the cribbing teams.

Other Options

  • Hydraulics
  • Heavy wrecker

A Final Word

Think about your options before you find yourself struggling on scene to find a solution.  Get back to training with some basic hand tools just in case our high dollar mechanical, hydraulic, or pneumatic tools don’t work.  Pass it on.