PICKENS COUNTY—Pickens County Bus Driver Pam Pierce had no idea what she was in for on the first day of school last week.
She had nearly gathered all of her students and was on her way to Crosswell Elementary, Gettys Middle, and Easley High. After her bus caught fire, Pierce had to think quickly to manage the situation.
Her timely actions kept everyone safe, and the District recognized her on Monday night with a Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding action for student safety in an emergency.
“It was really impressive,” said Board Chairman Alex Saitta.
Pierce said it was beyond anything she had ever experienced.
“I’ve never had anything like that happen,” said Pierce. “It happened really quickly.”
Pierce said she was running her route like normal when she heard a funny noise.
“We’re trained that if anything doesn’t sound right, you’ve got to investigate,” said Pierce. “When I looked out my window, I saw smoke and flames. It almost looked like sparks. It was a definite red flag.”
Her instant reaction was to stop the bus.
“I immediately pulled over, cut the bus off, and went to check things out. That’s when I saw that the bus was on fire,” said Pierce. “I knew I needed to get back in and get the students off.”
Despite the urge to panic, Pierce said she knew she had greater responsibilities.
“It was scary, but I knew I needed to stay calm for the students. That was the first priority,” said Pierce. “Once I got down to the church, I could breathe a little bit better.”
After evacuating the bus, students realized what was going on. Some, Pierce said, were even amused by it.
“A lot of them thought it was pretty cool,” said Pierce. “They started taking pictures with their phones. The elementary students were really scared. They didn’t actually know what was going on until they got off the bus and saw it burning. That was one of the things I was trying to do. I kept them from knowing it if I could.”
Many people described Pierce’s actions as heroic, but she says she was just doing her job.
“I had someone ask me if I felt like a hero,” said Pierce. “To me, I didn’t really feel like a hero. I’m a mother, and if I was at home or at work, and my child was on a burning bus, I would hope and pray that driver did the same thing to make sure those children got off that bus.”
“I feel like I did my job, and responsibility to the children,” she said.
Her quick thinking even kept the students on schedule for their first day.
Were they late?
“A little,” she said with a grin. “Not by much.”