MIAMI – Coaches are being credited with saving 21 student athletes.

Quick thinking and fast response averted what could have been a devastating disaster when a Wyandotte School bus full of football players and coaches burst into flames on Tuesday, June 6.

The bus packed with Wyandotte Football team players and coaches caught fire around 4:40 p.m. Tuesday on 93 Road off Highway 137 just north of Shawnee Grocery.

The team was heading to Galena, Kansas, to participate in a Passing League summer football camp.

No one was injured in the fire and credit is being given to Coaches Donnie Stogsdill, Brad Homer and assistant Colton Bryant for their calm and level-headed direction to the students to get them off the bus so swiftly to safety.

“We’re so blessed no one was hurt, and we’ve got a good staff," Wyandotte Superintendent Troy Gray said. “They did fantastic.”

Once evacuated, the students watched the firefighters’ efforts from the lawn of a nearby residence as the bus burned.

“The bus had been cutting out, and the coach gave it some gas to try to get us off the highway and flames came rising up,” Wyandotte Freshman Talon Powers said at the scene. “Coach told us to get off the bus. It was kind of scary.”

Residents in the area reported hearing engine noise and ran to see what was happening.

“The motor sounded pretty rough, and then I heard a loud boom,” John Sparkman said.

The response from firefighters and first responders from the Quapaw Fire Department, Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS Department, and Miami Fire Department had the fully engulfed bus extinguished in little time.

“Usually with those calls of a smoking bus, it's just a hose blown off," explained Quapaw Fire Captain Cory Humble. “What we saw when we got there was the bus was fully involved. I'm definitely going to say it was a mechanical issue in the engine compartment.”

Stogsdill, who was driving the bus, pulled onto a side road off Highway 137 after experiencing engine trouble. Humble credited the coach for pulling off the highway to keep the students safe.

“The was having some problems. It was becoming underpowered,” Humble said. “I would definitely put all the praise on the coach in picking a good spot to get off the road instead of the highway.

"Even when they paged us for the fire all the kids were already off the bus. Their main priority was getting all the kids off the bus, which was the right thing to do before calling.

"It was fully engulfed when I got there. When I pulled out of my driveway I saw black smoke, and I live three miles from there.”

Humble said the explosions heard were bus tires blowing out from the heat of the fire.

A nearby tree smoldered, some grass, two mailboxes, a newspaper box, and a realtor's sign caught fire because of the incident.

“There definitely was some significant heat coming off of that,” Humble said. “You know we got the new fire station there on 90 Road so that helped with the fast response and it improves response time out there.”

Gray said he was in Tahlequah when he received notice and a video of the bus fire.

“It shocked me,” he said. “As superintendent, when I got word that all our kids were safe I immediately used our One Call system to notify our community and our staff that this is what happened and everybody was safe. We had another bus there within 15 minutes to pick them up.”

Gray said the vehicle was a 2008 Thomas model, valued at approximately $45,000 to $50,000, and was purchased used from National Bus Sales of Tulsa in 2015.

When purchased bus had 57,000 miles on it. At the time of the fire, after two years of use by the district, the odometer had climbed to 74,000 miles of use.

Gray said while the bus was a total loss, it was insured. A replacement bus will run twice that amount.

“We’re looking at having to replace one already, now we’re looking at two, but insurance will help offset that,” Gray said. “I don’t think we lost any equipment. There were a couple kids that left their cleats on and lost them. Coach Stogsdill who was driving left his school keys and car keys on there.”

The bus underwent routine maintenance checks as required, according to Gray, and this particular bus had not had experienced major issues. 

"Our transportation guys went through it and inspected it and had it all ready to go for them," Gray said. "Our coaches smelled something electrical, and the bus started getting a little bit hot temperature wise, and to their credit, they did exactly what you should do.

"They pulled the bus over and evacuated. They had 21 football players on there. They got everybody off, and it caught fire. We’re real proud of our staff and our kids. The main thing is all of our kids are safe.”

Gray said routine emergency bus drills are performed with students as required once a semester but Wyandotte does more.

“It could have been a lot worse, let’s just be honest here. It could have been a lot worse on a route," Gray said. "We’ll investigate and research it some more and find out exactly why or what happened because we want to know.

"There’s fuel and electric on buses, and it’s not always a good combination at times. We can always buy another bus. The safety of our kids is always our top priority.”