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Charleroi Area honors 'heroic' bus driver

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Charleroi school bus driver Eva Harris  of Fallowfield Township gets a hugs from her riders, Ashley Zalac 10 of Bentlyville, Jenna Alton 8 of Charleroi,  Kaylyn Sawicky 8 of Charleroi, Leena Henderson 8 of Charleroi and Kellie Reed 9 of Charleroi, on Tuesday, October 22,2013, before being honored at the Charleroi School Board meeting for  helping to get her riders off the school bus she was driving when it caught on fire.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Charleroi school bus driver Eva Harris of Fallowfield Township gets a hugs from her riders, Ashley Zalac 10 of Bentlyville, Jenna Alton 8 of Charleroi, Kaylyn Sawicky 8 of Charleroi, Leena Henderson 8 of Charleroi and Kellie Reed 9 of Charleroi, on Tuesday, October 22,2013, before being honored at the Charleroi School Board meeting for helping to get her riders off the school bus she was driving when it caught on fire.

As Eva Harris cleared the top step at Charleroi Area High School, she was quickly met by nearly 20 children with outstretched arms.

“It's so overwhelming ... and unnecessary,” Harris said of her hero's welcome to a school board informational meeting Tuesday. “A hero, that's what they're calling me, but I was just doing my job.”

The board honored Harris, a driver who evacuated students from Bus 3 on Oct. 16 after she smelled smoke.

After she led the children behind a church and out of the view of the bus, the vehicle burst into flames.

Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko presented Harris with a certificate of appreciation.

“We wanted a fitting award, a big plaque with red and black, a Cougar emblem,” he said. “ ... We wanted it done right. It will be done later this week.”

Reading from the certificate, Ferko said, “In appreciation of your heroic efforts.”

The presentation was followed by a rousing round of applause from school board members, students and parents.

“Your quick action in getting those kids off the bus averted a tragedy,” he added. “But to take them around the church so they did not see the fire that engulfed their bus ... that was such great thinking when it comes to the best interest of the students.

“I have to recognize the great work of the two fire departments that were on scene, Fallowfield Township and Bentleyville, for all of their support and quick response. They did a fabulous job.”

Ferko said that because Harris kept the students from seeing the fire, all but one rode a bus to school the next day.

“Imagine where we'd be if the kids would have seen that and refused to get back on the bus,” Ferko said.

Jennifer Taylor, a parent of one of the students in attendance, presented Harris with a large floral arrangement. Included in the flowers was a toy school bus with “Charleroi School District” affixed to the side.

“Now you'll always have your bus,” Taylor said as she hugged Harris.

Harris said she knew she had to get the children off the bus immediately when she sensed there was a problem and saw smoke flowing from the hood that afternoon along Huber Road in West Pike Run Township.

“I was doing my job and doing what I love,” Harris said. “I'm so grateful that we're all alive and that we made it out safe.”

Harris said her riders do not complain about school bus fire drills.

“No way, not these kids,” Harris said. “They can't wait to do it and now they see why. They were so good about it. No one really began to panic at all until we got behind the church.

“Some were trying to peek and see what was going on. But I was pleased to see them all back the next day.

“The kids had some questions, but not too many. It makes me feel like they trust me; their parents, too.”

Harris said the response to her actions have been both “overwhelming and humbling.”

“Flowers, cards every day ... ,” she said. “I got an angel pin that I'm wearing tonight in an envelope, and that's all that was in it. I'm just really touched, especially the last few days and seeing it all on TV.”

Harris said she and her husband plan to see the burned bus Friday.

“I'm just glad that we got everyone off the bus and all of the kids were safe,” Harris said. “I won't bid on another bus run, because I'm so close to those kids and their parents – even moreso now. And that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It'll always be in my heart.”

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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