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'My babies': Fast-thinking school bus driver saves 20 children from burning bus

Maryland school bus driver Renita Smith thinks of the kids on her bus as her "babies," so when the bus caught fire, she had to save them.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Renita Smith, the lionhearted Maryland school bus driver who saved 20 students in her charge from a horrific bus fire, believes that moms are heroes: “You wear a lot of hats, and (motherhood) doesn’t come with a pamphlet, so you have to get right in there and just do it,” she tells TODAY Parents.

And it was thanks to her maternal instincts that the quick-thinking mom of two leaped into action, saving “her babies” minutes before her school bus went up in flames on Monday.

Smith was transporting the children, ranging in ages 4 to 9, from Robert Goddard Elementary School and Glenarden Woods Elementary School to their homes in College Park, Maryland, just before 5 p.m.

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During her third drop-off the bus brake light came on, giving Smith the indication of a mechanical problem: “I thought I had time to get to the next stop,” she said, “which was maybe a block or two away, but that didn’t happen.”

By the time Smith reached the stop sign, a loud beeping sound could also be heard. “We didn’t see the smoke but we could smell it ... and the smell, I can’t explain it, was horrible, and the kids were saying, 'Ms. Bus Driver, the bus is smoking.'”

Smith attempted to call her transportation manager. But, she said, “when I picked up the radio and I looked through my side rearview mirror, I saw the fire.”

And that’s when she knew that she had to act fast: “I unbuckled my safety belt, I opened the door, and I got my babies off that bus,” she said calmly. “Once the neighbors came out, and took the children as they got off to a safe haven, I ran back on the bus to make sure that there were no more kids on the bus.”

IMAGE: Renita Smith
Renita Smith loves her bus driving job and didn't hesitate when the kids in her charge, whom she calls "my babies," were in danger.Renita Smith

According to Smith, “the children were awesome during the evacuation,” adding “it was after they were off the bus that [the terrifying experience] hit them.”

Smith is currently taking some time off from her job, and her 18-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter are grateful that mom and all 20 students were safe and unharmed. “It scared them a little once they saw the pictures but they’ve been awesome — they are always supportive of their mom,” she adds.

Smith has been a school bus driver since 2014, and this hasn't scared her away from the work she adores. “I just love everything about it," she said of her job. “You meet different people from all walks of life, and it teaches you a lot about customer service, so it’s really good.”

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