The quick-thinking actions of two South Bay school district employees resulted in the potential lifesaving rescues of three people threatened or trapped by fires, a San Jose Fire Department official said.
Wednesday morning, two women staying in a small RV in San Jose were rescued by an Evergreen School District employee who noticed the vehicle was on fire and heard cries for help coming from inside, fire Capt. Mary Gutierrez said.
Tuesday morning, a bus driver with the Franklin-McKinley School District lifted a special-needs student out of her wheelchair and carried her out of the school van to safety after a fire started in the engine compartment.
"Two days in a row, the quick thinking and heroic efforts of two school district employees potentially saved the lives of three people," Gutierrez said.
Wednesday, two women were visiting friends in San Jose and staying in a small Tioga motor home when they became trapped inside after the vehicle caught fire, which likely started from a burning candle, Gutierrez said.
Jesus "Jesse" Hernandez, a longtime employee with the Evergreen School District, was driving along Santiago Avenue when he saw the burning vehicle. Hernandez heard the women's cries for help, pried open the door and pulled them to safety, Gutierrez said.
When San Jose firefighters arrived around 8:30 a.m., the motor home was already in flames, Gutierrez said.
The women became trapped, in part, because smoke had
Firefighters also rescued a four-week-old puppy from the burning motor home, Gutierrez said.
Hernandez, 60, described by his supervisor Pete Grassi as a quiet and loyal employee, was on his way to Katherine Smith Elementary to do some work on school grounds. Hernandez maintains grounds at six schools in the Evergreen district, Grassi said.
"We're all really proud of him here," Grassi said.
After the rescue, Hernandez went home to clean up and change clothes, then called his boss to ask if he could take the rest of the day off.
Grassi figured Hernandez had earned it. Grassi expects Hernandez will return to work as though nothing happened, but his colleagues are sure to give him a pat on the back.
"He'll just laugh it off, turn around and leave," Grassi said.
Tuesday, Franklin McKinley School District driver Wilma Acosta had just dropped off students at Sylvandale Middle School and was preparing to leave for her next stop when the engine compartment began to smoke, said Tim McClary, a deputy superintendent for the district.
Acosta immediately tried to get a special-needs student from Bridges Academy out of the van, but the wheelchair lift stopped working, likely damaged by the fire in the engine compartment.
Acosta quickly pushed the wheelchair back into the van, unbuckled the girl and carried her to safety, McClary said. She took the child to a bench far away from the van, which by then had burst into flames.
McClary said drivers are not normally supposed to remove a child from a wheelchair. In this case, however, it may have saved the girl from serious injuries or death.
"I'm very proud of our bus driver for taking care of the students in her charge and bringing them back home again," McClary said, characterizing the driver's actions as heroic.
McClary credits firefighters for pulling the girl's customized wheelchair out of the fire and minimizing damage. He said the school district is paying for the wheelchair to be cleaned to help remove the smell of smoke.
Both of the good Samaritans denied interview requests.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez