ATKINSON — Jesse Silva was standing in his driveway waiting for his 8-year-old son, David, to get off the school bus Tuesday afternoon when he noticed the bus stopped several feet before his house.
Moments later he saw the driver lean forward.
“As I’m looking at the bus one of the kids banged on the window and said, ‘Help!,’” Silva recalled.
Concerned, Silva ran to the bus to see what was wrong. Through the door he could see the driver was on the floor and the Atkinson Academy students on board were scrambling to help.
It was a frantic scene as Silva and another mother, Michelle Chouinard, who lives next door on Maple Avenue and called 911 after racing over, tried to open the door to get inside.
Police Chief Timothy Crowley said it appears the driver suffered a medical emergency and collapsed.
From outside, Silva said he yelled for the children on board to find a lever or some way to open the side door on the front because he couldn’t get it open. The students were unable to open the door.
“I was pounding on the door and yelling,” Chouinard said.
After a few minutes, Silva ran around the back of the bus, which was put in park, and was able to open the emergency door and climb inside.
The five elementary school students were scared and worried about the driver.
“They were all very shaken up,” said Silva, whose son tried to comfort some of the other students.
Silva said he found the driver unconscious when he got onto the bus. He rubbed her back and tried to get her to respond before rescue personnel arrived.
Chouinard, whose 8-year-old daughter was also on the bus, said she tried to help the driver, who opened her eyes at one point but still couldn’t communicate.
The parents safely got the students off the bus while paramedics treated the driver, who was taken to Parkland Medical Center in Derry.
Katie Cipriano, a school interventionist at Atkinson Academy, and third-grade teacher Nikki Shawley saw the commotion while passing by on their way home from school and stopped to help calm the kids. Atkinson Academy Principal Kathie Dayotis showed up as well and took care of the remaining students who still needed to get home.
The driver, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized Wednesday afternoon, according to Jen Biddinger, corporate communications manager for First Student, the company that operates the buses for the Timberlane Regional School District.
Biddinger said the driver has worked for the company for more than 20 years.
“We are thankful for everyone who came to her assistance,” she said, adding that the driver won’t return to work until she is medically cleared.
School Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler commended the students, parents, and staff who were involved.
“It’s a good testament to the commitment to the children,” he said.
In response to the incident, Metzler said students will now be assessed to make sure they know what to do in an emergency.
“We do the drills, but the most important thing is when you teach, you need to check for understanding,” he said.