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Bus full of Michigan high school students catches fire in Florida

Students from Carson City-Crystal schools were in Florida for a marching band trip, where they were due to perform at Disney World and Universal.
Bus full of Michigan high school students catches fire in Florida
Posted at 9:30 AM, Mar 19, 2024

A trip designed for fun with a little bit of marching time for a group of Michigan students took a scary turn Sunday night. The bus they were riding in caught fire.

More than 50 students, staff, and chaperones from Carson City-Crystal schools are in Florida this week. The high school marching band was scheduled to perform at both Disney World and Universal Studios.

The bus arrived in Orlando around 6 a.m. Sunday. Too soon to check into their hotel, the group went to Disney's Magic Kingdom, spending the full day at the park.

"We had a blast yesterday enjoying Disney and enjoying each other," band director Chad Parmenter told Scripps News Grand Rapids on Monday. "And you know, seeing the kids, especially like the first time being there — I had a couple kids' first time to Florida, a couple kids' first time out of Michigan, you know, just traveling with a good group of kids and having new experiences with them."

On their way to the hotel around 9:30 p.m., the charter bus blew a tire. The driver pulled off to the shoulder of the highway.

A second tire blew. That's when smoke started to fill the bus. Adults and students saw flames on the outside of the bus.

"Jumping to action, which I thought that the kids — like yeah, they were scared," said Parmenter. "The staff was scared, but [we were] really impressed with how everybody immediately jumped to action and was able to focus on the main thing and that was get off the bus."

Everyone on the bus was able to make it off safely, but they all watched as the fire grew. Most had no time to even grab their bags. The equipment stored in compartments on the underside of the bus, including the instruments and marching uniforms, were trapped by the flames.

"All of our clothes, equipment, uniforms," said Parmenter, "everything that we had in the inside of the bus was still on the bus."

Firefighters were able to put out the fire before it spread into the storage compartments, but damage from the smoke left the clothes unusable. Many students and parents had only the clothes they were wearing; outfits they'd spent hours in on the bus and all day at Disney World.

The group finally made it to the hotel around 1 a.m. on Monday. The planned performance at Universal Studios had to be canceled.

"The kids seem to be doing very well," said Parmenter. "Last night was rough on them with just the emotion of seeing their stuff going up in flames."

"My seniors, you know, stepping up to the plate and making sure my younger kids were good, even though my seniors were struggling."

The group that chartered the bus, Educational Tours, is helping to cover the cost of new clothes and other travel necessities.

"We're going to make sure that the kids, with the help of Educational Tours, make sure they have the rest of the clothes they need for the rest of the trip," said Parmenter.

Students will still get a day at Universal to ride the rides. Parmenter spent hours on the phone with the tour group, parents and park administrators to preserve as much of the trip as possible.

Parmenter says while the ordeal was scary, there is a positive side of it, too.

"You never want to build relationships and team building this way. But this is going to bring us closer and stronger," said Parmenter.

The marching band is scheduled to return to Michigan on Wednesday, this time on a different bus.

This story was originally published by Zac Harmon at Scripps News Grand Rapids.

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