Cooperation between a New Jersey school bus driver and bus garage mechanic enabled 10 students to escape uninjured from their bus, before flames engulfed it.
Blairstown Elementary School in New Jersey contracts with Stocker Bus Company for school bus services. On the morning of May 21, driver Kathleen Dolan had finished her high school route and was transporting elementary students.
Denise Current, president of Stocker Bus Co., told School Transportation News that Dolan saw smoke coming from her bus. She pulled over on Hoagland Road and called a mechanic at the bus garage on her cell phone to report what was happening. The mechanic told her to evacuate the bus and headed to the scene.
Dolan evacuated the 10 students who were aboard off of the bus “without incident, maintaining supervision,” the district said in a statement.
Once Doran and the students were safely in the backyard of a nearby home, the flames began to overtake the bus, Currant said.
The bus company notified police, the fire department and the school. The Blairstown Police Department also responded and confirmed that no students were injured.
District Superintendent Mark Saalfield sent the principal of Blairstown Elementary, Bruce Leal, to the scene as well. The district said Leal “took charge of the students and supervised them safely until another bus arrived to transport them to the school.”
Photos taken on-scene by the responding Hope Volunteer Fire Department – Station 38 show the entire front of the bus and much of the inside charred. Some of the seats were burned down to the framing.
“Communication with everybody was key,” said Current. This is the first time in her over 40 years of being in business that something like this had happened, she added.
She noted that the bus had just passed inspection in March. “We still don’t even know what caused it, but we do know that everybody’s fine and that’s all that matters,” she said.
Current said that drivers are trained to radio the garage for anything out of the ordinary, even an unfamiliar blinking light, but that it was a good thing Doran called the mechanic on her cell phone in this time-sensitive situation.
“We go through the most repetitive training with the bus company and the schools. The kids go through training too. It made them know they had to stay calm and they did,” Dolan told NJ.com. “Between me and my kids, everybody did everything right and everybody’s safe.”
The New Jersey Herald later reported that Doran was honored by the Blairstown Board of Education, where she said she was just doing her job and did not consider herself a hero.