Sheriff's deputy praised for helping students in weekend bus fire

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) -- An East Bay sheriff's deputy is being hailed as a hero Monday after he helped evacuate a bus full of high school students that was on fire at the side of a freeway in Walnut Creek over the weekend.

It turns out what he did was the second major event in the past three weeks where he made a big difference.

Deputy Anthony Coniglio is very humble about his work, but there's no two ways about it. He ran onto a burning bus to save lives.

Coniglio has been with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office for eight years. Even in his off time, he's ready to jump into action when he sees something wrong.

"I saw a bus on the side of the road with fire and smoke coming from the rear wheels," Coniglio said.

At around 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, Coniglio was driving south on 680 in Walnut Creek heading to work in Danville, when he saw the bus containing dozens of teenagers pulled over and on fire. He explained what was going through his head as he pulled up.

"That all those kids are immediately in danger and I need to do everything I can to help them and get them out of harm's way," remembered Coniglio.

He stopped and helped evacuate the bus, before running back on to make sure everyone had gotten off safely.

"I didn't really think about it much," said Coniglio. "I was concentrating on seeing through the smoke to see if there was any children that needed to be taken off the bus."

The bus was carrying teenagers from Arizona who were here for a sign language event. Several were taken to John Muir Medical Center and treated for smoke inhalation. None had to be admitted.

"I believe it is what we do and that anyone in my situation would have done the same," said Coniglio.

Still, the Sheriff's Office is praising him.

"He's an experienced law enforcement officer that goes out and does these types of things regularly, but often they're not recognized like we're seeing with this action that happened over the weekend," said Captain Dan Hoffman.

It was just three weeks earlier that Coniglio and his K-9 partner, Argo, saved an 87-year-old man with Alzheimer's, who was missing from his Alamo home.

"Alerted behind a row of bushes, some tall grass, and when I was able to peek through the bushes I saw the missing male lying in the tall grass," he said.

The CHP doesn't know what caused the bus fire. Coniglio went on to work his shift in Danville that night with no other incidents.