Students claim driver wouldn't allow them to evacuate during school bus fire

Montgomery County Public Schools students reached out to FOX 5 with troubling claims against a bus driver following an engine fire on a  school bus Wednesday morning.

The bus was engulfed with smoke and flames at around 7 a.m. along Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring.

School officials say no students were injured, but some are claiming the driver would not let the riders evacuate the bus and the students were forced to take matters into their own hands to get off the bus.

We spoke with several parents who say it was extremely difficult getting any answers from school officials as to what exactly took place.

Students told us once the bus driver already parked on the side of the road, he would not let the students out despite the smoke.

We asked Montgomery County Public Schools for answers and they say the driver was "trying to keep them safe."

Nearly 15 minutes into Wednesday's morning pickup, the bus heading to James Hubert Blake High School made an unexpected stop on the side of the busy road. It was carrying at least a dozen of high school students.

"Then we pulled over here and a little smoke cloud started going at the top of the bus," said student Samuel Fapohunda.

In just seconds, students on the bus say the plume of smoke inside grew significantly and they wanted out quickly, especially for Fapohunda, who has asthma.

"And then the bus driver was like no, so he actually stood in front of the door and he was like, ‘You all can't get off the bus,'" said Fapohunda.

Instead, the students said they looked for the side emergency door, unlatched the safety hatch themselves and self-evacuated.

"It was very serious," said parent Latania Gardner. "We could have lost our kids this morning, because for one, we didn't get a phone call from the school or anything telling us this happened or anything. We were calling throughout the day trying to get answers and we are still not getting answers."

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson Dana Tofig sent us a statement saying in part:

"The fire was in the engine compartment and although it was smoky, it was contained to the engine compartment and did not enter the passenger area."

The statement appears to refute a picture taken by a concerned driver who sent FOX 5 photos of the smoke pouring out of all of the open spaces throughout the entire length of the school bus.

The statement goes on to say, "The bus driver did let the students off the bus once he was in a safe location, but there was a concern about students going out the emergency door (which is on the side of the bus) because it would empty right out into traffic on a busy road. The students were safely off the bus as quickly as possible.

"As for communications, the school did contact parents of students who they knew were on the bus. However, the same students do not ride the buses every day. The principal believes they reached more than 80 percent of the parents of students on the bus, but it is possible that some parents did not hear from the school."

"I want to know the policy," said Gardner. "I want to know what they are going to do with the school bus driver."

We did request surveillance video from inside the school bus to observe the sequence of events inside the bus, but school officials told us there is no video that they are aware of.

As to parents being notified of Wednesday's incident, there were parents we spoke with late this evening who say they still have not heard from the school.

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