A Lexington-Richland 5 bus driver is being hailed a hero after springing into action to put out a recent fire at his students’ apartment.
Chris Blackwell was driving his route in the Irmo area May 15, when he noticed something out of the ordinary: His students were not in their typical pick up location but rather crowded around the front of one apartment.
“I saw one of my students going in and out of the apartment with his older brother and trying to reach someone on the phone,” Blackwell said. “I asked the students what was wrong. They said that there was a fire in the apartment. So, I got them on the bus, secured my bus … and grabbed the fire extinguisher.”
Blackwell entered the apartment and saw flames engulfing the hood and areas surrounding the stove. The students’ parents were not at home at the time of the blaze, which appeared to start with a pot left on the stove.
“They had gotten the pot off the stove and put it in the sink with the water on it but weren’t sure what to do when the fire started,” said Blackwell, who extinguished the flames before fire officials arrived. “I was just thankful that I was there before there was too much damage or before anyone was hurt.”
Blackwell said he relied on his instinct as a father and training as a district bus driver to safely put the fire out. “The district does a great job preparing us. Each year, before the school year starts we have different trainings that we go through. A few years ago the fire department came out and set up different stations, and one of those stations was familiarizing us with the extinguisher and showing us how to use it. So I had the equipment there, and I had the training and just trusted that.”
At the district’s transportation office, peers and supervisors said the selflessness displayed on the day of the fire is typical of Blackwell, who was named District 5’s Bus Driver of the Year this spring.
“Chris is someone who is always willing to help out so it isn’t a surprise to me that he didn't hesitate to act in this type of situation,” said District 5 transportation coordinator David Weissman.
Blackwell waves off any praise or recognition for his actions.
“I see these guys every day and some of them have been on my bus for several years,” he said. “I try to treat them as if they were my own kids. So, that’s all that really happened. I saw they needed help and my first reaction was to help them.”