Shaler Area bus makes a splash with story that went viral


Cherry City Volunteer Fire Co.

Shaler Area students are rescued from their school bus which stalled in a flash flood

Just weeks into the new school year, Shaler Area made international news. Shaler Area High School was being talked about everywhere, all because of an unlucky bus, remnants of a hurricane, and an ill-fated stretch of Seavey Rd.

The last thing the 40 students riding on bus 443 were ever expecting was to be caught in a flash flood. The remnants of a hurricane were passing over the area, they may have expected some heavy rain, but their expectations were ‘blown out of the water’, so to speak, on the morning of September 1, as the students and their bus driver found themselves surrounded by rising water.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida, a storm which had devastated parts of the southeastern US, began rolling through southwestern Pennsylvania the night before, and the deluge was only intensifying the next day. Early that morning, the students of SAHS were going through their daily routines as if it was a regular school day. Once bus 443 got to the end of Seavey Road, it quickly became far from normal.

…some people were taking pictures… some people were using humor to cover up their panic, and we all started texting our parents.”

— Jaxson Law

“We got on the bus and we probably only went not even 3 miles… we were at the start of Seavey… I don’t think our driver saw the water at first, and it didn’t look as bad at first so we just drove through it and then the bus stalled,” Jaylin Vinski, a student on the bus, said.

Some students wondered if the bus should entered the water on road, but the driver, ABC Transit, and police investigators have said that water flooded the road too quickly for the driver to react, resulting in the bus stalling out.

What students and first responders do agree on, however, was that the water was rising quickly. The sight of water steadily climbing up the sides of the bus and the front stairs caused some students to, understandably, begin to panic.

“I don’t think anyone was crying but everyone was screaming because we didn’t know what was happening,” Vinski said.

The bus driver and other students were attempting to calm down their worried classmates, while fighting to remain calm themselves.

According to another student on the bus, Jaxson Law, “some people were taking pictures… some people were using humor to cover up their panic, and we all started texting our parents.”

Turning back the clock by fifteen minutes or so, Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Skalos of the Cherry City Volunteer Fire Company was awakened by the first call of the day, one of many that he and his crew would respond to in the next twenty-four hours. The company had already prepared for the worst the previous night.

“Obviously we knew the hurricane was coming, we prepared the night before. We got our boat ready, actually, in case creeks were overflowing in Millvale…we got our pumps ready for house basement cleaning,” Skalos said.

At about 6:51 in the morning, a call came in regarding a water rescue from a stalled school bus on Seavey Rd.

The water was rising very quickly for us… [the water] was at the tire marks, and then at the one point it was just about at the emergency exit of the bus…we were counting down our minutes, trying to hurry up.”

— Cherry City Asst. Fire Chief Aaron Skalos

The Cherry City VFC was one of four fire companies to respond to that call, though only two were water-rescue capable. Skalos said that, upon hearing the specifics, namely that children were potentially in danger, “the adrenaline went up… when you’re a first responder, that’s one of your worst-case scenarios: kids. You don’t want to see kids involved.”

He also said that the students on the bus being of high school age certainly helped, as they were less prone to panic than a primary school student, but the danger of the situation was still present.

Although preparations had been made the night before, and the students had managed to remain mostly calm, the situation was still an urgent matter, potentially life threatening, according to Skalos.

“The water was rising very quickly for us… [the water] was at the tire marks, and then at the one point it was just about at the emergency exit of the bus…we were counting down our minutes, trying to hurry up,” Skalos said.

He, along with the other firefighters involved, managed to rescue all 40 students and get them to safety within about 7 minutes of their arrival to the scene. The students then waited in the plaza next to the flooded stretch of Seavey for another bus to arrive to bring them to school.

During the process of evacuating the bus, students were told to leave any personal belongings behind, as the rafts had a weight limit and items could have fallen off or been dropped into the waters below. In the moment, Law said that his thoughts were along the lines of, “this is fine. They’ll probably give it to us right after…”

That assumption turned out to be misguided, as the belongings that were left on the bus arrived at SAHS long after the students themselves did.

The students arrived somewhat damp, but unharmed near the end of first period. They were greeted at the front of the building by Dr. Royall, who told students to take their time getting back to class. A number of students, after operating under the assumption that they would be going home rather than returning to school for the day, decided to go home anyways, and were picked up by parents.

Mrs. Guido, one of the social workers in the counseling office that morning, like the students of bus 443, was not expecting the events that unfolded that morning. And she certainly was not expecting a bus-full of soggy students, some missing shoes and jackets and most lacking their bags, to walk through the front doors of the building.

However, Mrs. Guido was more than willing to lend a hand.

“Mrs. Townsend walked a couple of kids over here that didn’t have any shoes on,” Guido said. “We happen to have some of those things here for students,” she said.

Students were given spare shoes, shirts, sweatshirts, and emotional support if needed.

“It’s always amazing to me how our school, our high school community, can come together to support students and staff whenever things like this happen,” Mrs. Guido stated. “I appreciate working here because of the staff, and how much they really care about their fellow human beings in the building. Whatever we can do, we just step up.”