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Editorial: Quiet heroics

What qualifications are necessary to earn the title “Hero”?

By our measure, we think local resident Steve Linehan met and exceeded the bar last Thursday morning.

Linehan, whose face might be familiar to some as the guy who plays Santa Claus in Veteran’s Park during the holiday season, demonstrated his absolute love for humankind — and this community’s most precious resource — when he did all the right things upon smelling smoke while driving his school bus route.

We can’t know what went through Linehan’s head when he saw a whisp of smoke curling from a defroster tube in the nine-year-old, rear-engine equipped Blue Bird, but he probably evaluated whether to keep driving the three or four blocks to nearby Greenwood Elementary or to immediately commit to what would inevitably create a big scene.

Consider the logistics of rapidly evacuating 40 kids from a school bus on a residential street with only a few seconds notice.

He apparently rationalized that he could execute the evacuation quicker by ignoring those “Emergency Exits” many of us craved to leap out of as kids growing up. As a Force of One, how would Linehan safely ensure little people would make a three-foot drop to the pavement?

We don’t know whether Linehan stood near the driver’s cockpit and screamed orders or more likely, used his “Santa” charm to expedite the exodus. Once the kids cleared the bus and were shooed a safe distance away, Linehan returned to the now burning bus and canvassed the space, checking above and below each seat to be sure every child was safely out of harm’s way.

Study the photo captured by Lora Bakke James and you don’t see any children anywhere near the fire scene.

River Falls Fire Chief Scott Nelson told us he didn’t recall seeing children anywhere near the bus when his crews rolled up within four minutes of receiving the call. Linehan had obviously herded his charges well away from danger.

Transportation Director Ron Weishaar told an Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reporter that Linehan, a 20-year bus-driving veteran who returned to duty with the school district this fall following a several-year hiatus, followed his training to a tee.

That may well be, but practice exercises don’t typically include the presence of anxious youngsters, smoke and perhaps even flames.

Linehan showed remarkable calm and poise and, as a community, we salute him.