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Edgecombe school bus driver saves children from fire

Posted May 11, 2011

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— An Edgecombe County school bus driver was credited Wednesday with getting students to safety after her bus caught fire.

Bus No. 347 was headed to Coker-Winberly Elementary School with 39 students on board at about 7:30 a.m. when some children in the back of the bus smelled smoke, officials said.

"One of the kids came to me and said, 'Miss Penny, the bus is smoking,'" said driver Penny Cooper.

Cooper noticed dark clouds filling the bus and immediately pulled into the parking lot of a mobile home park on West Logsboro Road.

She helped the students get out through the bus' front exit, while trying to stay calm.

"Don't ever let the children see you panic," she said.

Inside, she was praying.

"Lord, please let me get these kids off this bus quick, quick, quick," Cooper said.

She led the students, ages 4 to 11, to a field away from the bus and called 911 and Edgecombe County Schools officials to report the fire.

bus fire Edgecombe school bus driver saves children from fire

Devante Hunter, 9, said the flames spread quickly.

"It happened so fast," Hunter said. "When we got to school, some children had to go in a room. They were crying."

Cooper, who has been a school bus driver for 8 years, said the children helped each other and followed her commands.  

"I even went back on to make sure I got everybody off that bus," she said.

The school praised Cooper's quick thinking.

"We are very proud of Ms. Cooper and the children who all followed the emergency procedures they have practiced in drills at school," Coker-Wimberly Elementary Principal Lisa Howell said in a statement. "It was a scary situation for our young students, but they remained calm and moved quickly to evacuate the bus. We are grateful that no one was hurt."

Parents were notified of the incident, and another bus arrived to take the students to school.

School transportation director Tommy Hudson said the fire started near the bus' air-conditioning unit.

"It started in the rear of the bus," he said. "(Made) its way up the bus and just consumed all the seats and insulation in the roof until it came right out the windshield."

The cause of the fire hasn't been determined.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • superpenny38 May 16, 2011

    To whom this may concern, some heroes are made, let me explain Mrs. Penny Cooper was born a hero. Superman Spiderman & so many others are made heroes. How would you feel if your child was on that bus & Mrs. Cooper didn't make a final check. A child could have been on the bus sleep, Firefighters going into a burning building is a job for a firefighters, not Penny Cooper. As for you negative people if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all!!!! Ms. Lucas

  • rosenchocolate May 12, 2011

    Penny you are awesome.. thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty.. The school system or someone need to give you a reward for that.. medal or something.. I am so glad no one got hurt.. Thanks to your quick thinking.. God bless you.

  • Peachtree May 12, 2011

    Ms. Penny you are awesome! Thanks for all you did to save those children.

  • agentm May 12, 2011

    I agree rwest i am just glad noone got hurt or killed and to those who said she was just doing her job she went well above her job she went back into a burning bus to all the kids were safe !!!!

  • mrsmom May 12, 2011

    Job well done by Ms. Penney. This story could have had a tragic ending if she had not kept her cool and moved quickly.

  • justabumer May 12, 2011

    I have a question for those who say that she was "just doing her job". Where in her job description does it madate that she climb into a burning bus to rescue children who about to be burned alive?

  • weesiebaby May 12, 2011

    agentm-I totally agree why can't people be happy that Ms. Penney saved the lives of these precious children. I have worked in the education field and I was taught that the students and children come first. I commend her also because she went back on the bus to make sure no one was left on the bus. She went above and beyond the call of duty.

  • sunset823 May 12, 2011

    Penny, I am beaming as I read this story. We graduated together from THS- you were a good girl then and an awesome woman now!

  • danderson5 May 12, 2011

    Awesome job! as a School Nurse-that was a horrible site to see-the bus in flames. Glad you kept your cool and got the kids off. You are definitely a HERO!! Those kids will never forget this.

  • Smart Alex May 12, 2011

    Oh my gosh that bus was on fire! Yes Miss Penny did her job and she did it extremely well...stayed calm, ensured the safety of the children, all are safe...Bless you Miss Penny!