Chuck Valente is still full of adrenaline after rescuing 14 kids on a Charlotte County school bus that went up in flames.
“Instinct. There’s kids in danger. You don’t … you save them,” Valente said. “That’s the first thing that was in my mind. Get on the bus, get the kids out.”
The last student off was one in a wheelchair they struggled to get unlatched.
“I just said whatever we don’t need the wheelchair, we just need to get the kid, so I took the kid out of the wheelchair, carried him out of the back of the bus,” Valente said.
Valente says he didn’t know at the time it was a special needs bus with students from Charlotte Harbor School. All he knew was he had to act fast once black smoke started pouring from the engine.
“(Thirty) seconds to a minute longer … somebody would have got hurt for sure,” Valente said.
Through determination and teamwork with other witnesses who jumped into help, all 14 kids were safe.
Left behind, the students’ clothing and school supplies, burnt to a crisp, and the charred roadway that now marks the spot of a close call.
“All the kids are safe. Let’s leave it at that,” Valente said.
Valente is still not ready to think about the “what if’s” that could have led to a much worse outcome.
Charlotte County Fire & EMS says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.