OOIDA member receives Highway Angel award for battling bus fire

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Monday, September 08, 2014

It was about 7:30 a.m. on June 4, when OOIDA member Jon Wilbur saw smoke coming from the tire of a double-decker bus in front of him on the New York State Thruway.

“Off in the distance, I could see a lot of smoke,” said Wilbur, an owner-operator from Phillips, Maine, who is leased to Pottle’s Transportation. “When I came upon this double-deck charter bus, there was a lot of smoke coming out of the left pusher tire area.”

Wilbur said he pulled his rig to a stop about 1,000 feet in front of the bus and ran back to the burning vehicle, armed with his fire extinguisher. The bus – which was hauling 18 passengers, including high schoolers and some children – had blown a tire, which started smoking before erupting in flames.

He emptied both his extinguisher and an extinguisher he got from the bus drivers, keeping the flames at bay long enough for the passengers to get their belongings and evacuate.

“The bus drivers put (the kids) in a ditch next to the bus,” he said. “I told the passengers they needed to get down the road to where my truck was. Standing next to the bus in a ditch was a bad idea.”

Once first responders arrived on scene, Wilbur said he got back in his truck and “got on with my day.”

For his efforts, Wilbur was named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association.

“It is quite an honor,” he said. “I was glad that I could help these people and everybody got off OK. Nobody was hurt.”

When asked what motivated him to stop, Wilbur said he was reminded of his own son, who went to college in Ithaca, N.Y., and didn’t have a car of his own at the time.

“He spent a lot of time on a Greyhound bus, traveling to and from college,” he said. “If he’d been on that bus, I’d hope somebody would’ve helped him get home safe to his parents, too.

“Nobody was stopping, and I didn’t know if the bus was fully loaded, or if there were disabled people on it, or if there were infants on board,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea. I just knew I had to help them.”

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