01/20/2010

Bus Driver Keeps Cool Head Despite Intruder

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Safety was the first thing on Cindy Fulwood's mind when a man ran toward her bus full of middle-schoolers on the morning of Jan. 13 and demanded to be let in. He tried to stick his hand through the window before she slammed it shut. Then he jumped on the hood, climbed to the roof, opened the hatch and dropped into the bus.

Although scared, Fulwood, a 16-year-veteran school bus driver and AFT member, remained calm by remembering her training: "Safety for the children. Safety for you." With just a glance from their driver, all 44 students left from the rear exit while she tried to keep the intruder's attention. They walked through a ditch away from the bus and the busy highway in Wimauma, Fla., near Tampa.

"My kids were awesome," she said. "I'm so proud of them."

Fulwood tried calling for help over the bus radio and finally had to dial 911. Meanwhile, the intruder kicked open her front door and ran to a second full school bus parked right behind hers, where he forced his way through the front door. The driver of that bus demanded that he leave, which he did, but he was back on and off the bus again before being apprehended. A local TV station reported on the incident.

Nobody got hurt. The intruder, 27-year-old Barry Christopher Martin, is being held without bond and faces several charges.

Once the children were safely at school, Fulwood, a member of the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, sat on the steps of a colleague's bus and cried. Later, in front of television crews, she reassured parents—having sent her own child through the Hillsborough public schools. "Trust the bus drivers," she said. "We care about the kids."

Since passing a resolution in 1987 on school bus safety, the AFT has actively supported the development and expansion of bus safety education programs in schools, including regular evacuation drills for students and safety training for drivers. Fulwood's students, who have been riding her bus for three years, have practiced bus evacuation twice a year since she was assigned to the route. [Annette Licitra]

January 20, 2010