COLLEGE PARK, MD (WUSA9) - Firefighters run into burning buildings, but how about school bus drivers?
Three-year veteran driver and mother of two Renita Smith went back into her burning bus Tuesday afternoon here in College Park.
After getting 20 elementary school kids out safely, she climbed back inside to make sure she hadn't left anyone behind.
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Smith says she just went into "mommy mode." She had to protect her babies.
It’s started with a dashboard warning light for brakes and the slight smell of burning. She pulled over to radio the bus depot.
“By the time I got the mic,” she said, “one of my little ones said, 'No, Ms. Bus Driver, it's fire!" “I unbuckled my seatbelt, I open my door, and I got my babies off the bus.”
After leaving the children with neighbors, she worried one of the kindergartners might have fallen asleep on the ride home. "I didn't even think, I just ran in." She says there was dark black smoke rolling into the bus.
Within minutes, the whole bus was engulfed in flames.
“My biggest reward is my babies are safe. Because whenever I drive any school, they're my children until I drop them off to their biological parents.”
It was only after she got home and looked at the video from a fire service dashcam that she realized how bad it was.
"That's what brought the tears and the emotion, because of the what ifs…. And I cried, and I thanked God. And I cried, and I thanked God."
"I did what mom's do," she said.
When it was over, she hugged the kids. Neighbors and parents hugged and thanked her. But she says she didn't sleep much last night. She's haunted. She just keeps thinking about how bad it could have been.
Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the bus to catch fire. But they know it started near one of the back wheels. And firefighters say these kind of fires are often touched off by defective brakes.