College Park bus driver saves 20 elementary schoolers from fire

A College Park bus driver rescued 20 elementary school students from a burning bus Monday afternoon on the block of 51st Ave. near Hollywood Road.

Bus driver Reneita Smith was taking the Glenarden Woods Elementary School students home at about 4:45 p.m. when she noticed a fire in her rearview mirror. Smith immediately stopped the vehicle to ask all of the children to get off through the front door.

Once it appeared that all of the children were off the bus, Smith re-entered the back of vehicle and went aisle by aisle to make sure there was no child left behind. All 20 children were safely evacuated, according to fire department spokesman Mark Brady.

“At that point, the fire spread throughout the bus, so she certainly risked injury upon herself by doing that,” Brady said.

A neighbor called 911, but by the time the fire department arrived the bus was already engulfed in flames, and they deemed it unsalvageable.

“It’s my job to save them,” Smith said in a Facebook Live video Wednesday morning. “I did it because those were my babies, while they’re under my care, they’re my babies.”

Parents rushed to pick up their children from the scene. Others were safely transported home by a second school bus.

The College Park community celebrated Smith as a hero through a series of shared Facebook and other social media posts, which also started to trend nationally.

Deeply affected by the amount of support she has received on social media, Smith shared her thoughts in the emotional Facebook Live video Wednesday.

“This is not about me,” Smith said in the Facebook video. “Thank God those babies are home with their parents after they left me, that is my reward…you guys don’t know how much I appreciate the love that you guys have been showing me from all over, it’s a lot, I am so humbled, I am so thankful.”

The bus came from Good Luck Road, which is located about five minutes from the University of Maryland campus.

“I think it’s great that she put herself in front of so many other children,” senior international business major Nicole Simpson said. “I appreciate how she didn’t think twice about saving them. I love how far a bus driver would go to save her passengers.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but fire officials believe it was a mechanical failure related to the wheel and brake assembly on one of the rear end set of wheels.

“If it was a different set of circumstances, we don’t know what would’ve happened. We are very fortunate that it ended the way it did,” Brady said.


Photo taken from the Prince George’s County Police dash camera

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