This is the charred remains of a school bus after it caught fire Tuesday afternoon with kids on board. And, just one day later the bus driver is being called a hero because quick thinking allowed him to get all four kids off the bus and to safety,
All that's left is the skeleton of a bus. The front end melted, upholstery is charred, and shattered glass lays on the floor.
Gary Romens says, "Pretty amazed at what it looks like today." Romens is a veteran bus driver with more than 20 years experience in Fort Atkinson, but Tuesday afternoon's fire was a first.
The busses run on both natural gas and gasoline which can sometimes cause the transmission to be fussy. Romens says, "A lot of times if the tank gets low, it loses power and that's what I thought was happening because I was going up a hill and was losing power." He tried switching between gas sources, but that didn't help. Romens says, "I looked out and there was smoke coming out of the exhaust, but I just thought it was over loaded."
He kept driving, with 4 kids out of 17 left to drop off on his route. Romens says, "I had dropped 2 kids off and then I went down away from their house, down around the corner and decided to check this out a little closer." A decision that helped keep himself and and the 4 remaining kids on his bus from being seriously injured. Romens says, "Got out and looked under the wheel well and saw the flames and went back in the bus immediately and told the kids we have a fire and they just got off right away."
It's a good thing Romens decided to evacuate the bus when he did because it was only minutes later the cab of the bus became engulfed in flames. Romens says, " It just kept on going, getting bigger and bigger."
Eventually the fire department put out the flames. Deke Dullere, the owner of Double Three Transportation says they don't know what caused the fire, but says safety is and will continue to be their number one priority. Dullere says, "That particular bus was inspected on December 14th by the State Patrol. They come out and do every bus every year and the drivers will tell my mechanics every day if there's any problems and issues they get looked at."
And looking back, Romens says, "Now that we see it, you know, it just makes you more thankful that everyone was got out ok and nobody got hurt."
Gary Romens did call the parents of each of the kids last night to make sure they were OK. Each of them were home safe and we're told got back on the bus Wednesday morning. Romens was subbing for another driver yesterday. Parents are calling him a hero, but he says he was just doing his job.