No injuries in bus fire
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
11/22/11 at 8:27 AM
With a busload of Penn Elementary School students in the seats behind her, Yolanda Palmer saw the flames from the engine and knew exactly what to do.
"I just stood in front of the fire while the kids went behind my legs," the Tulsa Public Schools bus driver said, checking her pants and joking that they were burned like toast.
They were fine. So were all 17 students.
The flames appeared moments after Palmer felt the bus sputtering midway through her route in the 2600 block of Mohawk Boulevard about 7:15 a.m. Monday.
She pulled over, guided the students out the front door and fought the flames with the on-board fire extinguisher.
But the fire grew too quickly, and she hurried the students down the road.
The bus was engulfed when firefighters arrived minutes later, authorities said.
"I need water for my eyes. It scared the mist out of me," said Palmer, who declined to have her picture taken.
"It wasn't driving like that on Friday."
The damage appeared to be concentrated in the front end, but flames also scorched areas above most of the side windows. The bus was a complete loss.
The students, who stood behind firetrucks dozens of feet away, laughed and joked with each other as they waited for another school bus to pick them up and continue the route.
It appears that the entire response was flawless, Tulsa Public Schools Route Operations Manager Terry Evans said.
"All indications that were reported to us by firefighters and witnesses are that the driver did a fantastic job," he said. She "is dedicated to her job and dedicated to keeping students safe."
Administrators spoke with the students at school, made sure they were all right and explained the situation to their parents, Evans said.
After that, the students went about their day as normal, he said.
Evans said it did not appear that any of the students lost property in the fire, but he stressed that administrators' priority is safety.
"Items we can replace. We cannot replace students," he said. "When we evacuate a bus, we make sure that they leave and get off the bus right away. It's about them being safe."
The district's bus drivers are certified through state testing that covers all facets of handling children on a bus, including evacuation procedures, he said.
Their training includes a course on handling emergencies where they are taught to inform students of the danger, evacuate them quickly and radio the location of the bus.
It appears that Palmer followed the procedure exactly, Evans said.
"Our drivers are well-trained to handle all types of emergencies," he said.
He added that all buses are inspected regularly.
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Seventeen students and the driver escaped from a Tulsa Public Schools bus that caught fire about 7:15 a.m. Monday. ZACK STOYCOFF / Tulsa World