A school bus driver thought quickly and saved the lives of 20 students when the bus caught fire.
“Whew my God! It was just scary and knowing my daughter sits on the second seat, ”said Della Clayton, a mother of a 5-year-old.
In 18 years of career, on March 24 Sondra Artis will never forget. “The rain was coming down so hard, and some of the places you could not see, and most of the roads I travel are back roads, country roads,” Artis said of the memorable day.
Artis works as a bus driver at a school in Virginia where 41% of the population is black.
She was riding her bus with 20 students aged 4 to 17. After he had 3 or 4 miles left to reach his destination, Artis noticed something unusual. He began to smell me.
“Then as I got closer to the end of my route, I started to smell something, I said mmm, OK, I kept looking and looking and wiping and wiping, then I had one student who asked,‘ Mrs. Artis, are you OK? ’So I guess I had a look on my face,” Artis said.
It was raining that day and the driver realized that the smell was of smoke. He called a mechanic and another bus to be nearby in case there was a problem.
“When I pressed on the gas, the smoke started to come in and the scent got very powerful, so I activated all of my lights and went down the road and as I turned onto the church ground, something went ‘pop, pop, ‘like a firework, and then all of a sudden, a big red stop sign lit up saying stop engine, and I said, you do not have to worry about that because I’m getting ready to stop anyway, ”Artis said.
Artis knew that if the bus filled with smoke the children would find it impossible to survive. He had never thought that the training he had done for the fire would serve him.
“I said, ‘I need you to get ready and we’re going to do a real drill. Just stay calm and grab all your belongings. ’I said,‘ When I stop the bus, I need all my high-schoolers to open the back door, all high school and middle school go out that back door. Elementary, you go out the front, ’” Artis said she told the students in preparation for an emergency evacuation of the bus.
In a few seconds, the 20 children get off the bus safely. In a small town, the words spread quickly, and there the 5-year-old mother found out.
He had seen the video on Facebook. It was scary knowing that there were school children inside.
The children got on another bus and went straight to school where they were checked by the nurse. Clayton says he will never be able to say thank you enough to the hero who saved the children.
The only thing Artis did was thank God. Even today it is still not determined why the fire was caused.
“All my babies are OK, and I’m OK,” Artis said reflecting on the gravity of the day. While grateful for the recognition, Artis thanks God for allowing everyone on the burning bus to live to see another day.