Posted - 11/19/2018 : 11:44:04 PM
The Paradise, Calif., wildfire has made heroes out of a number of people who went above and beyond to make sure people properly evacuated their neighborhoods as fires were blazing through. The latest is Kevin McKay, who is being recognized as the “bus driver from heaven” for bringing nearly two dozen students safely to parents who couldn’t make it to school in time.
As flames began to surround Ponderosa Elementary School, “it was time to go,” the recently employed bus driver told CNN. But he quickly realized that there were two teachers, Mary Ludwig and Abbie Davis, as well as 22 students he couldn’t leave behind.
“There were 22 kids, and my first thought was just getting them on the bus and getting them out of there because the sky was really menacing,” Ludwig said.
However, as soon as they all boarded the bus and started the treacherous journey, the adults quickly realized that the roads were going to get worse before they would get better.
“We started getting fire on both sides of the bus, kids started getting antsy,” McKay said. “At a couple points I think that we had some honest discussions about, is this the time to get out of the bus?”
A fourth-grade student, Charlotte Merz, told the outlet how scary the experience was. But it only got worse for those in charge when some of the kids started to become tired as a result of smoke filling the bus.
“I ran to the front of the bus and I said, ‘Kevin, these kids are telling me they’re tired right now,'” Davis said. Luckily, McKay had an idea of what to do. “Without even thinking about it [McKay] took his shirt off and tore it into little pieces. And we just started tearing it up as quickly as we could to make filters for these kids to breathe.”
Kevin McKay tore his T-shirt into rags for children to use as filters. (Photo: CNN)
The two teachers soaked the rags in water and handed them around to students. Although the filters helped, there was still danger from more flames ahead.
“I just felt like this was never going to end,” Charlotte said.
Even the teachers and the bus driver silently wondered if they were going to make it out.
“Just being gridlock, trapped in the road, there was nowhere for us to go, the traffic wasn’t moving,” Davis said. “And then our last stretch too, I think that was the moment I thought that we might not make it.”
The homes of McKay, Davis and a number of the 22 students didn’t survive the fire — as well as some classrooms in the school. But fortunately, each of the people on the bus did. Certainly McKay is to thank, in addition to his training as a bus driver.
“Safety is such an important part of a bus driver’s role,” he said. In reference to the training he did for the job, McKay concluded, “I must have paid close attention.”