PALM BAY, Fla. — As fires raged around Brevard County last week, the local school district’s transportation department demonstrated its commitment to keeping students safe.
On May 12, the department’s buses led the evacuation of Bayside High School and adjacent Westside Elementary School, which were under the threat of rapidly approaching flames.
“It was incredible how fast the fire moved and the danger that the students, school staff and school bus drivers faced,” said Mike Connors, director of transportation for Brevard Public Schools.
Still, the evacuation went smoothly, and no one was injured, Connors said.
In all, 1,230 students and 37 teachers were taken out of harm’s way. Forty-six school buses, along with some cars and a helicopter, were employed.
Bayside High Principal John Tuttle praised the transportation department for “a fantastic job” in carrying out the evacuation.
“The district support we received diverted a possible disaster from happening,” Tuttle said.
Neither school was damaged, but the fire did reach some school property, including a security trailer on the high school campus.
The fire also burned up to the fence of a bus compound behind the elementary school. The buses were moved from the compound in the evacuation, but the fire didn’t spread inside.
“We were lucky,” Connors said.
Later in the week, Brevard schools reopened and transportation services resumed, but residents were urged to use caution due to possible smoke in the area.
Police arrested an arson suspect on May 14.
Connors said that while fires aren’t rare in Brevard County during this time of year, they are usually confined to uninhabited areas where brush abounds.
“Rarely do we have fires that affect schools like this,” he said.
But in the event that students need to be taken out of schools immediately, the district’s bus drivers are called to the scene. This is more likely to be prompted by a bomb threat than a fire, Connors said.
In last week’s case, the students were evacuated to a middle school that was far from the fires. Drivers reported that the students were well behaved and cooperative in the face of danger.
“Like one driver said, these students were inside the school knowing they were being evacuated, but then when they came out and saw the flames all around, they knew this was serious — it wasn’t a drill,” Connors said.