PEMBROKE — A Robeson County school bus driver is being credited with her quick thinking in safely getting 12 Purnell Swett High School students off of a bus that caught fire earlier this week and then exploded.
“In a moment like that you don’t panic, you do what’s best for the students and yourself,” said Brenda Morgan, who has been a school bus driver in Robeson County for 33 years. “A bus you can replace; you can’t replace a life. I’m not a hero. God is my leader and I thank him for giving me the courage and the strength to do what I did.”
Raymond Cummings, director of Transportation for the Public Schools of Robeson County, said the 60-year-old Morgan was driving her bus route on Monday at about 3:30 p.m.when something went wrong.
“After the last stop on St. Anna Road, she noticed smoke coming from underneath the bus and smelled rubber burning,” Cummings said. “She pulled over onto a side road, and the bus was smoking pretty good. She exited out of the rear of the bus, and got all the children off safely. Before the fire department could get there the bus was fully engulfed in flames.”
According to Cummings, the fire, which appeared to be electrical, started underneath the hood. He said the fire department was able to extinguish the flames, but the bus was destroyed.
“At first I thought it was the air brakes, because they have the tendency to get hot and smoke a little bit,” Morgan said. “I got off the bus and looked and noticed it was more serious than the air brakes. I was sitting on a highway, and I knew that wasn’t a safe place for us to get off the bus. I rode down the road, pulled off on the side and noticed the smoke getting heavier.”
Morgan said her next instinct was to get the children off the bus and to a safe area.
“The way the situation was, I knew I had to get those kids in the field off the side of the road,” she said. “I knew if that bus did get hot, the gas tank would explode. I made sure no one panicked and the only thing I grabbed was my cell phone so I could call 911.”
According to Cummings, a second bus was sent to pick up the students and carry them home.
Morgan said every time she cranks up a school bus, she checks to make sure everything is working properly.
“It was just a freak accident,” she said. “I thank God that nobody was hurt. As we stood and watched that bus burning, I knew if we would not have got out when we did it would’ve been a tragedy. I have kids, and I would want someone to be there for my kids. You do what you gotta do in a moment like that, and safety is the most important.”
Patricia Jones was at a friend’s home on St. Anna Road and watched as the bus exploded.
“We saw it start smoking, and then it blew up,” Jones said. “It sounded like a bomb in the bus. We were just praying the children weren’t on that bus.”
Jones also praised Morgan.
“They need to do more than just give her a hug, they need to give her a raise or give her a dinner,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for her quick thinking and her smarts, those kids would have all died and so would she.”
Cummings valued the state-owned bus at about $75,000. He said the state has already sent a replacement bus.
“We want to credit Brenda Morgan for her quick thinking, for getting those kids off the bus in a safe manner,” Cummings said. “She reacted calmly and helped maintain the safety of our children on the bus. She saved those kids’ lives.”
— Staff writer Tess Hollis can be reached at (910) 272-6146 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.