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School bus drivers expect bad days, that’s part of the job. But at most they might be prepared for a fender bender or some students to get in a fight. Bus driver Kia Rousseve ended up in a situation much worse than any of us could have guessed she’d encounter. Thanks to three-years experience and a clear head, she was able to save all the students on the bus–and herself–from a fiery death.

Rousseve was completing her Wednesday morning pickups. Just five stops in, she noticed smoke around her bus.

Her first thought was to protect the nine students aboard, “As soon as I seen the bus smoking, my instinct was get them off of the bus.” She immediately pulled over. And that’s when a student said they also noticed a problem. “A little girl came and told me the bus was on fire underneath.”

I am curious how a passenger noticed the flames. Perhaps she saw a reflection in a store window, flames coming out from behind the bus, or maybe she even stuck her head out an open window. But that was all Rousseve needed to hear. She considered using the emergency exit at the rear of the bus, which was further from the engine. But she decided speed was critical. And it’s a lucky thing she did.

A yellow school bus driving on a paved road traffic in background full right rear angle view
School bus | ablokhin via iStock

Rousseve directed the kids to go ahead of her and get away from the vehicle. “I turned the bus off and got off. When I got off, the bus blew up.” She specified, “All I heard was boom, boom, boom. I was like oh my God, the bus blew up.”

The bus driver admitted she was overcome with emotion at that moment, but when her students began to cry, she knew she must be the one to keep it together. She thought of her own child and realized her actions had protected other folks’ kids. And that was the silver lining she needed to reframe the disaster. She said, “I feel great about saving other kids lives and saving my life.”

Rousseve drives for the Community Academies of New Orleans. CANO called her actions, “Courage on wheels.” The organization did not announce a cause of the bus fire, but it did say it would be inspecting every other bus for malfunctions very closely. Rousseve pointed out that her bus was one of the newest, adding to the mystery. She speculated that the problem was a standalone issue with the alternator. Perhaps she saw the bus was failing to charge before the fire.

Whatever the cause of the accident, the reason Rousseve and her passengers all get to see their families again is her decisive actions.

Next, read about the student who saved their bus driver, or see an interview with Rousseve in the video below: