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When bus driver passed out, Williamsville North students came to the rescue

Jessica Ireland thought it was strange how slowly her school bus was traveling down Cottonwood Drive in Amherst on a recent afternoon.

When she looked up, she saw the driver slumped over and realized he had passed out. She shouted this news to the other Williamsville North High School students on the bus, urged someone to call 911 and ran to the front to check on the driver.

Jessica pulled the emergency brake, bringing the bus safely to a stop along the curb, while Thomas Schwartz called 911 and directed emergency responders to the scene.

"I don't think that fear hit me right away," said Jessica, a sophomore. "It was more after I got home: 'Oh my God, this just happened?' "

The bus driver soon regained consciousness and is expected to survive.

On Friday, Williamsville North is throwing a pizza party in the students' honor. School and fire officials are praising the efforts of Jessica, Thomas and two classmates, saying they kept a scary situation this week from ending badly.

"To be able to respond that quickly, in that way, is amazing," said Williamsville North Principal Andre Thomas.

Getzville firefighters say the call to 911 came in shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Jessica; Thomas, a freshman; and classmates Isabella Custodi, a sophomore, and Madelyn Greco, a freshman, were among eight or nine students left on the bus as it dropped the teens off after school.

Jessica said the driver had just dropped off two students and was traveling on Cottonwood, off Birchwood Drive, when she realized the bus was moving far slower than normal.

She looked up from her seat in the middle of the bus and saw the driver leaning back in his seat with his head pitched forward. Realizing he was unconscious, she ran to the front of the bus and pulled the emergency brake to bring it to a stop.

Then, turning to the driver, Jessica said, "I shook him awake and checked his pulse."

Jessica said she had taken CPR training years ago, so that helped her know what to do.

Thomas called 911 and was able to relay information from the bus driver and the bus' precise location to a dispatcher.

"He was very calm on the phone," Isabella said.

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The driver, who is 72, told firefighters he felt ill but he didn't remember passing out, said Getzville Assistant Fire Chief Scott Preston. He was taken to the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center for treatment.

"I think he was more embarrassed than anything," Jessica said.

The driver, who wasn't identified, works for Student Transportation of America, Williamsville's transportation provider, according to the district. An official with the company did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Isabella and Madelyn helped direct traffic around the bus, which had its stop signs extended as it rested along the curb close to a tree in the right of way.

The students and Preston said the bus could have crashed into a tree or a parked car in someone's driveway or rolled into a nearby intersection. Preston, the third firefighter to get to the bus, said he also was quite impressed with Thomas' ability to provide so much detailed information.

"They did everything right," Preston said.

Jessica cited the training she and other students receive at least three times a year in how to respond to an emergency on a bus in preparing her to act.

"It was just in the brink of the moment. I just knew what to do and I knew that he wasn't OK," she said.

Isabella said she's glad the driver is OK. She said he's been her driver since she started high school a year and a half ago, and he's always friendly when students would greet him getting on and off the bus.

"I was kind of shocked. It didn't process in my brain," said Isabella, who added that Jessica is her best friend and she didn't know Jessica had this in her.

The students, in an interview Thursday, brushed off any suggestion that they acted heroically. But they did say they appreciated the school's gesture of goodwill on Friday because who doesn't like pizza.

In fact, Jessica pointed to another possible reason things turned out as well as they did: her dog, Emily.

She was supposed to stay late at school to help on Williamsville North's stage crew as members prepare for an upcoming school play.

But she had to take her regular bus because no one in her family had been home all day and Emily needed to be walked and fed.

"I do believe everything happens for a reason," Jessica said.

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