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Schools: As bus gets hot, driver keeps her cool
By Charles Swenson
They smelled the smoke before they saw it.
A school bus taking students home from Waccamaw High last month didn’t catch fire, but you wouldn’t have known that from the black smoke that emerged from the engine.
“The kids said, ‘Ms. Addison, the bus is on fire,’” said the driver, Wilhelmina Addison. The Georgetown resident has been driving school buses for 29 years.
She was in the left turn lane on Bypass 17 at Wachesaw Road when the bus filled with smoke. “The bus cut right off,” Addison said.
There was a deputy sheriff’s car at the intersection. She waived it over and the deputy stopped traffic so she could evacuate the 42 students and get them off the highway. They were picked up by another bus and taken home.
It turned out the smoke was not caused by a fire, but a hose that came loose. But the smoke was heavy enough to inspire witnesses to phone television stations to report the incident.
The bus wasn’t Addison’s regular bus. It was a spare, she said.
Superintendent Randy Dozier said he first got a report about a bus on fire and started making phone calls. The school board this week agreed to spend $175,000 to install a radio system that will connect buses and schools to the district offices.
“If we’d had that system, I’d have known,” Dozier said.
He praised Addison’s quick thinking in getting students off the bus and off the highway. “The No. 1 thing is she took care of the kids,” Dozier said. “She’s a hero in my book.”
He gave Addison a certificate and a small model school bus for her efforts after telling her story to the school board.
Addison was back on the job the next day and the bus was full.
“Ms. Addison, are we going to have a fire today?” they asked.
“Not today,” she said.