Training kicked in for a driver during a school bus fire in Alexander City as almost 40 children were evacuated from their bus Friday afternoon.
Alexander City Schools bus driver Terrance Whetstone did everything he was supposed to do in the incident according to Alexander City Schools administrators.
“We want to commend Mr. Whetstone,” Alexander City Schools superintendent Keith Lankford said. “He did the right thing getting the kids off the bus first.”
The fire started in the engine compartment and only a little smoke made it into the cab of the bus.
“I saw the fire and pulled off,” Whetstone said. “I just got them out the back of the bus. I came back used my fire extinguisher. (Alexander City Fire Department) used what they had.”
Alexander City Schools transportation director Keith Lashley said Whetstone and other school personnel followed procedure just as they should have.
“Mr. Whetstone did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Lashley said. “He got them off the bus and went back and had it put out before the fire department got there.”
Lashley said the fire never reached the passenger compartment but some smoke did.
“He noticed it quick and got off the road,” Lashley said.
Whetstone walked between the bus and where the evacuated students were until a new bus arrived where Whetstone boarded the spare bus as the driver just minutes after the fire.
Lashley said most of the nearly 40 children on the bus at the time on County Road near Cornerstone Drive were supervised by officers from the Alexander City Police Department until school officials could arrive. The children were then loaded up on another bus to continue home as some parents started to arrive at the scene.
“We would have to check each person to see if they could pick up the student,” Lashley said. “We didn’t have the list here in the field. They will actually get home faster this way.”
Lashley is unsure what caused the fire at this time but knows it took out the power steering.
“Mr. Whetstone noticed it and turned into (the Autozone) parking lot,” Lashley said. “When he did the fire burned through the power steering hose and he lost power steering.”
Beyond the engine and transmission compartment, the bus was undamaged.
Lashley said Alexander City Schools perform drills with every student in the system to evacuate a school bus and some of these students have been through the drill before.
“We haven’t done one yet this year – school just started Wednesday,” Lashley said. “We do it twice a year. We will line buses up at the schools and every kid will learn how to evacuate a bus. You never know when it might happen, field trip, ballgame or riding home.”
Lankford said this is the first incident Alexander City Schools has had this year.
“We were just sitting in a meeting talking about how nothing had happened in the first three days of school,” Lankford said. “It couldn’t have been a better first three days of school. We have had no other incidents and things went smoothly this week.”