Bus driver Heather Bowen said she was just doing her job Wednesday, but Northwest Independent School District leaders say her action may have saved 10 high schoolers from a burning bus.
Everyone safely escaped injury before a school bus quickly became engulfed in flames Wednesday afternoon along Interstate 35W in Fort Worth.
The bus caught fire at about 4 p.m. in the southbound lanes near Golden Triangle Boulevard and Keller Hicks Road, according to the Fort Worth Fire Department.
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A spokesperson for Northwest ISD said 10 students from the Haslet and Fort Worth area were aboard bus #609 from Northwest High School.
Bowen, the driver of the bus, said that they heard a bang and the bus started to show signs of problems.
Those signs were confirmed when students started reporting smoke out the window and other drivers began to pull alongside the bus to get her attention.
“She motioned for me to open the window so I did so I could hear her,” said Bowen. “And then the next driver also said, 'your bus is on fire.'”
So Bowen said she pulled the bus onto an exit ramp as quickly as she could and began getting the students off the bus and away from it as fast as possible.
Cell phone video of the fire from Youtube shows Bowen instructing the teens to move back further from the bus as the flames spread and engulfed the vehicle; eventually even causing what looked like a small explosion near the back wheels.
“The students were calm,” Bowen said. “They did everything I asked them to do and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of students.”
The students were either picked up by their parents at the scene or taken home on another bus.
District leaders praised Bowen during a press conference Thursday for following her training and acting when needed in the emergency situation.
“That’s why we have 10 students who are safely in their classrooms today and are uninjured,” said Superintendent Dr. Karen Rue. “We are so grateful to the quick thinking, to the immediate response to training.”
District Outsourced Operations Manager Dana Chandler said the cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Fort Worth Arson investigation team.
She said the bus was just fully maintenanced before Thanksgiving and even received new tires at the time.
“Obviously everybody’s seen the pictures that fire was coming from the back end of the bus. Other than that we really don’t know anything else,” said Chandler.
District leaders also praised Durham School Services who handles bussing for them, saying they continue to be a good partner and work diligently to ensure the safety of their busses and students.
Rue said they hope to recognize Bowen Monday night at their school board meeting for her quick action in the emergency.
“I care about my students and I want them to be safe and I…I just don’t feel like I’m a hero, but that’s what they’re saying and I’m like, ok,” said Bowen Thursday.
The district estimates investigators should have a cause to the fire in the next 5-7 days.