WOODBRIDGE, N.J. — Tom Hennessy, Colonia High School physical education teacher and baseball coach, brushes off the word “hero” when he talks about his response to stop a school bus after the bus driver lost consciousness earlier this week.
Hennessy said he just did what most teachers would have done.
“Kids are the reason you teach and coach,” he said.
Tuesday afternoon Hennessy's baseball team won their away game against North Brunswick. He said the team's bus driver had watched the game.
“It was a great win,” he said, adding there was a good mood for the bus ride home.
But shortly after the bus pulled away from North Brunswick High School and made a turn, Hennessy felt the wheel turn to the side. He tapped on the driver's shoulder, but he didn't respond.
As Hennessy stood up he realized the driver was unconscious. The bus, filled with about 40 students, was traveling 30 mph.
Hennessy said instinct took over.
“I just reacted. I stepped on his foot to get the bus stopped,” he said. “I put the bus in park and checked his pulse.”
Hennessy had Drew Hill, assistant coach, call 911.
“I was concerned about my kids and wanting to get him (the bus driver) to better health,” he said.
While waiting for the police and ambulance, Hennessy checked the bus driver’s tongue and kept talking to him even though the driver was unable to respond.
Joe Coutinho, 18, a Colonia High School senior who plays first base on the team, said he saw his coach jump up, step on the brake and pull the bus over.
“It was a good reaction by him, we’re all safe,” Coutinho said.
Hennessy said the driver did regain consciousness and said “are you ready to go” unaware he had been passed out.
“He had no idea,”Hennessy said, adding he told the driver an ambulance was coming to check him out. When the driver seemed OK, Hennessy walked him off the bus, had him sit down and gave him some water.
Once the police arrived, they took over, he said.
The bus company was notified along with the school’s athletic director, and the students parents.
Hennessy said he's thankful the bus was not on the highway, or had struck a curb at the time of the incident.
“I'm glad it wasn't on Route 1,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Robert Zega said he considers Hennessy a hero. Zega said the bus driver is OK.
“I don't think it's a big deal,” Hennessy said. “I don't call myself a hero, I call myself a teacher.”