OSSEO, Minn. - The day smoke poured from the school bus Alfred Lewis drives is one he will never forget. Lewis, who has been a driver with First Student for six years, smelled the fire before he saw it on March 6.
"I was on my fifth pickup. I could smell smoke," Lewis said. "Burnt brake pads is what it smelled like. Then smoke started coming out of the vents. I pulled over right away."
On board were four special needs students from Osseo Public Schools. Two were in wheelchairs.
"I told them we were going out the back door. We emptied the bus and we got off safely," he said.
Tuesday morning, Lewis was awarded for his outstanding service in Brooklyn Park. The Osseo Area School District recognized him along with Minnesota State Highway and his employer.
Dennis Maple, First student President, said extensive training and compassion played a role in Lewis' quick thinking.
"We are excited about Al's efforts. And his support of his community and the effort that he took to save the lives of those kids," Maple said. "Certainly the training kicked in but I also think that the commitment and the relationship he has with those students and this community. He just very intuitively knew what needed to be done. The training certainly provided the basis for his reaction."
Gary Catapano, the Senior Vice President of Safety with First Student echoed those sentiments.
"School bus drivers are charged with transporting other people's children. It is a very important and high responsibility," Catapano said. "Al performed dutifully that day."
Lewis said his priority is to make sure the students he transports are safe. And to do that, training continues.
"It doesn't stop ever. It started when I came through the gate and it will stop in 20 years when I go out the gate," he said. "It never stops."
Lewis also said he did not work alone. A nurse aide on board also helped pull the children to safety.