Hero bus driver helps pupils flee blazing vehicle
A TD whose son was on a bus that caught fire while taking 40 children to the National Ploughing Championships has praised the driver and teachers who have been hailed as heroes.
Independent deputy Michael Healy-Rae's son Kevin (15) was on board when the blaze broke out shortly after 7am as the coach, which was carrying students form Kenmare, Co Kerry, was approaching Ballyvourney in west Cork.
Less than an hour into the journey, a student smelled smoke from the rear of the vehicle and alerted a teacher.
The driver was told and the coach was immediately brought to a safe halt just off the main Cork road.
"The minute I noticed the smoke I pulled the bus over and, with the help of a teacher we got all the children off the bus and walked them to a safe location," said driver Declan Finnegan.
"The priority was to get everyone to safety and that's exactly what we did. The teachers were a great help - we all worked together to get everyone to safety."
Everyone on board was able to leave the coach in less than a minute. There were no injuries.
"The children were never in any danger," Mr Healy-Rae told the Herald.
"They were being driven by a very competent and experienced bus driver.
"They had school personnel on board who were very cool and very calm.
"Kevin was joking to me that the only trouble he had was that he lost his good farming boots - they got burned on the bus."
Mr Healy-Rae said the trip to the ploughing championships in Co Laois was called off.
"I compliment the bus driver and the teachers and other personnel from the school and the students themselves for being cool, calm and collected when the fire took place," he said.
"All's well that ends well as long as nobody gets hurt. Machines, buses and cars can be replaced once everybody is all right."
Gardai and fire brigade officials paid tribute to the quick-thinking response of the coach driver and the teachers involved.
"They handled the situation exactly as they should have - they brought the bus to a halt in a safe place and got everyone off," a garda source said.
Kenmare Coaches, which owns the bus, is one of Ireland's oldest and most respected coach hire firms, having been founded in 1940. The vehicle involved was just over 10 years old and was classed as a luxury coach.