16 students safe after school bus catches fire

DEKALB COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) A DeKalb County school bus caught fire early Friday with 16 students on board. All escaped unharmed thanks to “great situational awareness” from their bus driver.

A DeKalb Central Schools bus caught fire early Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. (Courtesy photo/KPC News)

DeKalb Central Schools bus No. 14 caught fire just before 7 a.m. on its route through the Mason’s Village subdivision, at the intersection of Auburn and Quinten drives, according to a report by NewsChannel 15’s news partners KPC News.

“I’ve been a bus driver for 22-years, Michelle Pfefferkorn said. “I guess I was calm about it. So it was just get the kids off the bus, get the kids away from the bus and get someone there to look at it.”

“It began with an engine light coming on,” bus drive Michelle Pfefferkorn said. “We stopped the bus and it started to smoke a little bit. I felt the kids needed to be evacuated and we evacuated them off the bus immediately. Then it proceeded into a full blown fire.”

By the time firefighters arrived three minutes later, the bus was fully involved, according to an Auburn Fire report. The flames were under control within six minutes.

The bus was carrying 16 students – 12 from McKenney-Harrison Elementary School in Auburn, two from DeKalb Middle School and two DeKalb High School, Superintendent Steve Teders told KPC News. The students were checked out by medics and cleared, and their parents were notified.

“I was never nervous,” Pfefferkorn said. “We are trained really well and we do a lot of safety measures. As soon as I said we were going to evacuate, they were up and moving.”

After getting off the bus, Pfefferkorn moved the kids a second time – away from the full engulfed fire.

“I wasn’t afraid of it exploding, but I moved them a second time away from the bus a little bit further because of the fact that the windows were popping,” Pfefferkorn said. “So I just wanted to make sure that they were not anywhere near where any of that glass was going to be.”

Fire Chief Michael VanZile credited Pfefferkorn’s quick thinking for keeping the students safe.

“The bus driver did a fantastic job and had great situational awareness to safely evacuate all the children from the bus,” VanZile wrote in the report.

Pfefferkorn has received praise from everyone she’s talked to.

“I’ve received messages saying thank you for what you did,” Pfefferkorn said. “All kinds of positive things have come out of it. I am just a simple person and it’s our job. I don’t feel heroic, I am a mom and a grandma and those kids are just like my kids. I would’ve treated them the same way and done the same thing for anybody. All of our drivers that we have here would’ve done the same exact thing that I did because that’s the way we are trained.”