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Lennox School bus destroyed in fire

By Kelli Bultena

Last Wednesday morning’s bus route was a little too exciting for a handful of students in the Lennox School District as they had to evacuate a school bus that later started on fire.

The students were never in any danger, reports School District Transportation Director Russ Nelson.

Early Wednesday morning, the 2012 International diesel bus driven by Nelson experienced a mechanical failure. Nelson took note of a loud squeal from the engine compartment followed by a warning light on the instrument panel. He immediately pulled over to investigate. Upon investigation, he noted blue smoke coming from the engine bay which prompted him to immediately evacuate the bus.

After confirming every student was off the bus and a safe distance away, he contacted emergency personnel and another bus on route to come pick up students. Due to the frigid temperatures, a mutual aid request was sent out to the South Dakota Highway Patrol and Lennox Police Department to help get the children into warm vehicles until another bus could arrive. Within ten minutes, students were loaded onto another bus and taken to school. Parents of the students on the bus were notified during this time to assure them their children were safe.

Worthing Community Fire Department was on scene to extinguish the fire, which destroyed the bus.

Nelson said that he had 12 students that morning and all of the kids handled the emergency evacuation well.

He added that one of the farm kids said, “that’s cool.”

For Nelson, handling the emergency was second nature. He has served as director of transportation for the Lennox School District for six years now; however, previously he was in law enforcement serving with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office gave the following statement, “We want to recognize the bus driver, Lennox School District Transportation Director Russ Nelson, for his quick thinking and heroic actions in getting all the children off the bus quickly. Due to his actions, there were no reported injuries. We would like to thank the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the Lennox Police Department for their quick response, and the Worthing Fire Department for working in these subzero temperatures to get the fire put out quickly.”

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was also assisted on scene by Lennox Ambulance and Ace Towing.

School District Superintendent Chad Conaway provided an update to all parents in the District on Wednesday.

Conaway stated, “Support staff in the district have been in contact with these students to evaluate their physical and emotional well-being. Bus failure of this magnitude is rare. Although buses receive routine maintenance, they are susceptible to mechanical failure. It is in these rare circumstances that evacuation training becomes critical.”

His letter also offered appreciation to those involved.

He wrote, “Director Nelson did an outstanding job today executing evacuation procedures and keeping our students safe. We are grateful for our emergency responders who acted swiftly to ensure the ongoing safety of our students. We also want to thank the students on this bus for their calm and attentive response to Director Nelson’s direction. We know situations like this can cause anxiety for students and not just for those directly impacted. If you notice your child is having any difficulty in relation to this incident, we encourage you to visit with your child’s school counselor. We have a wealth of resources to assist in responding to these types of crisis situations.”

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