Nothing rattles 11-year-old Rocco Arcese of Mahwah – the kid’s an award-winning downhill racer. So when the school bus he’d just gotten on caught fire Tuesday morning, he calmly told the driver he’d better pull over.
Rocco was the Durham Bus Company driver’s first pickup on the way to Joyce Kilmer Middle School.
They’d gone barely 300 yards on Chapel Road in Fardale when the fifth-grader smelled smoke.
So they quickly got off.
Police officers were there instantly and members of Mahwah Fire Co. 4 quickly doused the Durham Bus Company engine fire.
While they were doing that, Stacy Perone-Arcese got a call from her son.
“Mom, you need to pick me up,” he said.
“Why?” she asked.
“My bus is on fire.”
“I said to him: ‘Is it really on FIRE?’” Perone-Arcese told Daily Voice.
Reassured by the calm in her son’s voice, Perone-Arcese grabbed her younger son and headed to the scene.
A police officer stopped her.
“My kid was on that bus,” she told him.
“The officer told me they talked to Rocco, that he was safe, and that he was very calm, very brave,” Perone-Arcese said. “They said he was the calmest kid they’d ever seen in a situation like that.”
His mother later asked Rocco whether he’d gotten any cellphone images of the fire, but he hadn’t: He’d been contacting his friends, telling them what just happened, she said.
“That’s the kind of kid he is: Nothing rattles him,” she said. “The principal said the same thing when he called me.”
Arcese did her part, gathering as many youngsters as she could and driving them to Joyce Kilmer. Another bus picked up the rest.
The bus was totaled, Police Chief James Batelli said, adding that his detectives were investigating the cause.
“I'm kinda glad there weren't other kids on that bus,” Perone-Arcese said. “They might’ve been scared. Rocco’s something else: He knew what to do.”
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