When he noticed smoke coming from under the hood of his bus, John Fothergill evacuated his passengers before the bus became engulfed in flames. Photo by Jaime Gallego.
Safe evacuation from burning bus
Southeast Polk Community School District
Pleasant Hill, Iowa
Using emergency evacuation training from Southeast Polk Community School District, bus driver John Fothergill was able to successfully evacuate students before his bus burst into flames.
Last August, Fothergill was driving students ranging from grades 6 to 12 home after their first day of school when he suddenly saw smoke rising from underneath the hood of his bus.
Fothergill made a quick decision. He turned a corner, shut down the bus and put in motion the evacuation plan he had been trained to perform.
According to Dan Shultz, transportation director for the school district, “The evacuation was executed perfectly, and Fothergill took all things into consideration. He even managed to drive the bus out of the main traffic and into a residential area in that small time window so that students could go inside families’ garages for protection from a possible fire if need be.”
Minutes after the students had evacuated, the front of the bus went up in flames; an undetermined electrical failure had occurred. However, not a single person was injured, thanks to the training that Fothergill and the students received as a part of a semi-annual evacuation training program hosted by the school district.
“In our training sessions, everyone actually boards the bus, where we go over rules and perform a mock evacuation,” Shultz says. “It’s customized differently for each school, and we always reserve time afterwards so the kids can ask questions.”
In this case, Fothergill spearheaded a split evacuation where half of the students exited through the front door, while the other half used the emergency exit at the back of the bus. The trained students followed Fothergill’s orders and knew exactly what to do.
After exiting the bus, Fothergill and the students went into the garage of a nearby home for protection. About 10 minutes later, the entire bus was engulfed by the fire.
“Overall, Fothergill handled the situation absolutely excellently,” Shultz says. “He saw an issue, diagnosed it and saved everybody’s life. And he doesn’t take credit for being anybody really special; he just felt it was his duty.”
— BRITTNI RUBIN
To read the first edition of "Heroes in School Transportation," which ran in our January 2011 issue, click here.