Students, staff, and parents throughout the county were shocked when a Montgomery County Public Schools bus caught on fire in late February. The bus was approximately 15 minutes into its route at 7 a.m. on February 25 when the bus driver suddenly pulled over.
The driver stopped along Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring en route to James Hubert Blake High School. Senior Paul Farrell recalled, “I just remember when we were getting on the bus it started to smell like fumes. We were riding down the street after we had finished picking up the second bus stop kids. So, we’re riding down the street, and I keep asking if people smell the fumes, and everybody said yes. We’re almost to the school when the engine starts to shut down and [the bus driver] pulls off to the side of the road. Soon it starts to fill with heavy smoke and some of the kids start to cough.”
Senior Aniah Moore described the bus driver’s actions in the face of chaos. Moore stated, ”The bus driver did not know how serious the situation was initially so he told everyone to stay in the bus. When he realized it was becoming dangerous he let us out in a timely manner.“ After she exited the bus she recounted, “I was scared but relieved that we got out of there safe.”
“It started getting pretty bad so we just hopped out of the emergency exit,” added Farrell. “There was no traffic coming, so after we did that, [the bus driver] began to let everyone out through the regular exit and after that things got pretty bad.” Students reported that fire engines took approximately 40 minutes to arrive at the scene.
Parents found it extremely difficult to get answers from school officials right after the accident, though the principal stated that they contacted more than 80 percent of the guardians of students on the bus. An MCPS spokesperson has stated that the fire was contained to the engine compartment and did not enter the seating area.
The traumatic incident highlights the need for clearer bus evacuation procedure in emergency situations. With clearer directions to follow and more checks on buses, hopefully incidents such as these can be averted in the future, many students expressed.
Article by the MoCo Student Staff Writer Sindu Lyer