Florida teacher saves 38 children from burning bus

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Story highlights

  • Kristina Buhrman teaches math at Discovery Academy in Lake Alfred, Florida
  • Buhrman also subs as a bus driver and saved 38 students from a burning school bus
  • "You've got to do kind things for other people," Buhrman says

(CNN)Teachers are often unsung heroes. Parents entrust them every day with their most precious possession. Teachers spend eight-plus hours a day as educators, confidants, disciplinarians and friends to other people's children. It is a noble profession, but one Florida teacher recently proved she's a hero of extraordinary proportions.

On December 3, eighth-grade math teacher Kristina Buhrman was filling in as a bus driver for Discovery Academy in Lake Alfred, Florida, as she often does. By all accounts, that Wednesday felt like any other day -- until right after the last stop when the bus hit the highway for its last leg of the journey to school.
"I was driving down the interstate. I had started to notice that there was smoke coming from the back of the bus," Buhrman recalled. "However, I didn't know if it was smoke or exhaust at first because it was rather cold, and it's a bus that I don't normally drive. Being a substitute bus driver, I don't drive the same bus every single day.
    "I was watching as the smoke was rolling, and it was rolling down, which would exhibit to me that it was exhaust. But then a student in the back stood up and said, 'Ms. Buhrman, there's smoke coming out of my seat.' "
    Buhrman immediately sprang into action. She pulled the bus over and evacuated all 38 students just as the flames appeared in the back of the vehicle.
    "Once I got them off the bus, then I moved them down, and there was a ravine down there or like a drainage ditch, so I had to try to get them into a straight line to get them across the drainage ditch without falling into the drainage ditch," she said.
    At the same time she was leading her students to safety, Buhrman was on the phone with 911. Help arrived shortly after she directed her students across that drainage ditch. The students and teacher were all unharmed.
    Buhrman has received praise from parents and recognition from officials, including the Florida Highway Patrol, which awarded her a certificate of appreciation for her bravery.
    And while her story captured headlines nationwide, she said she's not entirely comfortable with all the attention.
    "I didn't expect that anybody would care. I was doing my job. That's how I feel."
    She continued, "I don't necessarily feel that I did anything that anybody else wouldn't do. I was just put in a place that I had to protect the kids that I'm there to protect and that's what we do."
    She said she also feels strongly that while she was calm and able to do her job to keep the children safe -- she didn't do it without a little divine intervention.
    "After the bus fire, I had received a call saying that a photographer had taken a picture of the bus and they said when I was ready I could view it. So I opened it up, and there was a picture of a rainbow over the bus; however, it wasn't raining. ... I immediately started crying because like I knew that we were being taken care of."
    It wasn't the first time Buhrman has leaped into action to save a life.
    "I was leaving work one day, and there was this car on the side of the road, and there's smoke flying out of it and there's a lady sitting in her car and there's blood gushing out of her head," Buhrman said.
    "So I pulled over and that's when she was sitting there, and I'm like, 'Ma'am, you know your car's smoking. You've got to get out of your car. It's going blow up.' "
    The woman had broken the heel of her foot and couldn't get out of the burning car, so Buhrman jumped in and pulled her out safely to the side of the road.
    The teacher tells this story as casually as if she were describing meeting a new friend at the mall. She doesn't view her actions as extraordinary -- rather just her way of life.
    "We're put here to help others and to influence others and to do good in this world and to leave a lasting legacy. ... If I can do that by helping somebody out of a burning bus or helping somebody out of a burning fire or the numerous times I've paid for somebody's food in McDonald's or the numerous times I've given people money for gas at a gas station because they've run out of money, I don't mind. I would do it 100 times. I would do it over again and I will continue to do so."
    She added, "I especially try to teach that to my students. ...You've got to do kind things for other people because that's what this world's about -- people helping people."