Bus driver raises alarm on Huber Ridge neighborhood house fire during early morning route

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Susie Lehman paused when she saw the black cloud billowing over a home along her early morning bus route through Huber Ridge neighborhood. At 6:45 a.m. on Oct. 29, it was pitch black with a mist of rain falling and she wasn’t sure if she saw low-hanging fog or smoke creeping above the ranch-style home.

She didn’t want to take any chances. After picking up a Westerville Central High School student a couple of houses away, the Westerville bus driver radioed into base to report what she saw.

“I had an aunt whose house was partially burned down,” said Lehman, who has been a bus driver for the district for five years. “Most people won’t report something until they see flames. I started second-guessing myself. But something was off that morning.”

Anne Smith, the dispatcher for the transportation department, received the call and alerted Blendown Township Fire Department, who then notified Westerville Fire Department. 

Emergency crews responded to the report and Lehman later learned that the home’s HVAC system had started a fire in the attic. 

Westerville Division of Fire Chief Brian Miller said the home was currently going through renovations and was unoccupied at the time.

"The bus driver that discovered the fire, it definitely prevented much more extensive damage from being done to that structure, so we are forever grateful for that,” he said. “Just the fact that the bus driver noticed that and got us called, we were able to get there and quickly extinguish the fire and prevent any subsequent damage."

Lehman, who previously worked as a graphic designer and photographer before joining the district as a bus driver, said drivers went through training about human trafficking and how they could play a pivotal role in combatting it. They learned about looking for things that are out of place such as a person being forced into a car or held against their will or a van at a bus stop that isn’t normally there. 

“The training was about looking for things that are off,” she said. “See something, say something.”