Hemet Unified School District bus drivers receive multiple hours of training each year to prepare them for various scenarios they may encounter. October 18th, Cristina Dever, Sysonna Allen, and Gabriel Figueroa’s training was put to the test.
Sysonna was looking in her rearview mirrors as she saw her co-worker, Cristina Dever, making a turn from Florida Avenue onto Cawston Avenue. As Cristina turned the bus onto Cawston, Sysonna saw flames at the back of the bus. Sysonna pulled her bus over, flashed her lights, and waved her hands out the window to get Cristina’s attention. When Cristina passed Sysonna’s bus, Sysonna informed her the bus was on fire. Cristina snapped into action and immediately pulled the bus over and asked the students to immediately vacate the bus.
Students left the bus one-by-one unaware that the vehicle was on fire. Cristina’s main focus was to safely get all 26 students off the bus and at a safe distance. As students exited, Cristina counted each student to ensure they were all accounted for. Sysonna advised her students to stay on their bus and grabbed the fire extinguisher as she exited. Sysonna began using the fire extinguisher to extinguish the flames at the back of the bus.
Gabriel Figueroa, another HUSD bus driver, pulled over to assist his coworkers. Gabriel escorted the 26 students onto his bus to ensure they were out of harm’s way. Once students were safely on the bus he assisted Sysonna in trying to put the fire out. Meanwhile, Cristina had re-entered the bus with San Bernardino County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Gelinas, as they checked to make sure no one was still on it. Deputy Gelinas was off-duty, but saw his assistance was needed so he pulled over and helped.
Less than a block down the street, the Fire Department was pulling out of the station to report to a medical call. As they were leaving they saw flames coming out of the back of the bus. The Fire Department contacted the paramedics to assist in the medical call and immediately reported to the bus fire. Within minutes, firefighters had connected to a nearby fire hydrant and were able to extinguish the fire.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
“I’m glad everyone was okay, and Sysonna was so perceptive,” said Cristina. She said although it was a scary situation her instincts took over. She said subconsciously she was able to perform the actions she is trained on every year.
“Today was a hard day in general,” said Sysonna. With the procession for Officer Zerebny this morning she said she was on high alert. She continued on to say, “I’m glad we were able to save lives.”
Deputy Gelinas commended Cristina on her amazing work. He said she was only thinking about the student’s safety and risked her own to ensure they were safe. “I commend her heroic acts of bravery and truly believe she is a real hero.”
Thanks to the quick thinking of our bus drivers, the Fire Department and good Samaritans, all students left the scene with no injuries. The immediate response is an indication to the great community we have. We help each other in time of need, and this is a wonderful example of that. We are very grateful for the actions of all involved and thankful everyone was able to leave the scene uninjured.