School bus heroes get VIP treatment

(Nov. 17, 2015) When a Hillsborough County school bus veered off the road and careened into a murky lake earlier this fall, four fifth-graders stayed calm and helped their 23 classmates out of the chilly water to safety.

Safety patrols Nicolas Sierra, Ella Brunelle, Stephanie Swartz and Kate Turlington demonstrated life-saving skills well beyond their years. None of the 27 students were seriously injured. School bus heroes at firestation

The airport team honored the Mary E. Bryant Elementary School students and their families with a VIP tour on Nov. 1.

“Thank you for being so brave,” Airport Fire Chief Daniel Olegario told them during a look at the airport fire station, staffed by 36 City of Tampa firefighters. “Heroes really do come in all sizes.”

The “Heroes Tour” included the Airport Operations Center, the Incident Command Center, a demonstration by Police K9, and a tour of Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting.

Erika Lierra Linar, Nicolas's mom, said the children will not soon forget the experience.

 “This is such a wonderful opportunity for them,” she said. “We are so thankful to the Airport for reaching out to them like this. This is something I would never be able to do for my sons.”

Robert Furman, Airport Operations Specialist, said the Airport regularly reaches out to those who make a difference in their communities.

“These are some of the things we really like to do,” Furman said. “Especially reaching out to the young children at this age who display such amazing hero characteristics. It's very rewarding for us.”

The first stop was the Airport Operations Center, where General Manager Laura Rozansky, showed the students how the airport monitors everything from the elevators to the shuttles, to emergency dispatch, the weather, and lost and found.

Then, honorees received a special visit of the furry kind: Aatwood, a 5-year-old black lab and Vika, a German shepherd, members of the Police K9 unit specially trained and used to sniff out explosives. Sgt. Bob Thompson explained the process for finding the right dogs for the job: High energy with long attention spans.

 “I really love dogs,” exclaimed fifth-grader Ella Brunelle, 10. “This is so much fun.”

At the firestation, the students and their families climbed aboard a fire truck and rescue engines, and learned about airport fire safety. They also were taught how to handle a firehose before receiving medals for a job well done.

Nicolas Sierra, 11, who saved a kindergartner, a first- and second grader from the half-submerged school bus, declared the fire station stop “the best thing ever.”

 “It's so nice of everyone to do this for us,” he said. “I got to do things I've never done before. It's really a great feeling.” 

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