[Written by Don Burgess]
“Everybody is calling me a hero, but I just did my job.”
This from humble driver Stacey Simmons whose bus was a total write-off after being engulfed in flames.
Mr. Simmons was behind the wheel of the bus, which was travelling from Watford Bridge to Somersfield Academy, when it caught fire around 7:40am near St. Mary’s Road. The bus had around a dozen Warwick Academy and Somersfied Academy students on it when the blaze started.
Mr. Simmons told Bernews he had just left the bus stop near the Warwick Post Office, saying: “I had just picked up a little boy.
“As soon as we got around by the church, all I heard was a loud bang. It sounded like a tyre had burst as I’ve had a tyre burst before so I stopped the bus.”
He said as he got up to investigate what happened, the older children, which had been sitting in the back of the bus, came to the front and got off after Mr. Simmons opened the door.
“I told the little children ‘You need to get off the bus.”
He then saw his cousin, who was riding a bike behind the bus, coming up to him exclaiming “Cousin, your bus is on fire!.” I said to him ‘No way’ but when I looked back that’s when I saw the smoke.”
Mr. Simmons said several adults quickly moved the children away from the burning vehicle to the post office.
“While I was trying to call my job, my cousin got the fire extinguisher off the bus and went to the left hand side of the bus and started to spray. He then went to the right hand side and sprayed too.”
Mr. Simmons said the fire extinguisher did little to impede the growing flames leaping out from the bus. A fire extinguisher from the post office also did little to hinder the escalating inferno.
“Within five minutes the bus was engulfed in flames on both sides,” Mr. Simmons said. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this in my life. The fire brigade showed up and they put it out.
“Everybody is calling me a hero, but I just did my job. The people that took the children away from the bus and escorted them over to the post office. They’re the heroes.
“My cousin, he’s a hero. And the firefighters are heroes because it took them a very long time to put that fire out.”
Mr. Simmons said he stayed with the vehicle until the fire was out, which was around 11am.
Yesterday, Minister Dr Grant Gibbons said “we are told that the bus operator should be commended for quick action to evacuate the children to safety,” while in a letter [PDF] to parents apologizing for the fire, Transport Minister Michael Fahy called him an “amazing bus driver who behaved professionally and safely.”
An engineer from the bus manufacturer was scheduled to arrive for a fleet inspection late Tuesday evening and is expected to help give an assessment on what the cause of the was.