In a few very scary moments Friday afternoon, some Hernando County youngsters learned something about themselves and the people they depend on every day to watch out for them.
It's a lesson of responsibility and selflessness that we are hopeful they will never forget.
When the charter bus they were passengers in stalled at a railroad crossing on State Road 50, the 42 students and four adult chaperones reacted quickly and calmly by evacuating as an enormous CSX freight train bore down on the disabled vehicle.
With dubious guidance from the inexperienced driver, the adults directed the preteens off the bus. According to the chaperones, the students were orderly as they exited, and they deserve credit for remaining focused and composed.
One teacher, 32-year-old Tina Regan, deserves special recognition for being the last person off the bus. "It was like being in a bad dream," she later told the Times, unintentionally understating the seriousness of the memory.
"All I know is that the train hit about a second after I got off."
The instinctive bravery exhibited by Regan and the other chaperones under perilous circumstances is exemplary. But two people's attentiveness and quick reaction in this crisis cannot be overstated.
The CSX conductor and engineer, Irvin Padgett III and Scott Hannah, spotted the bus on the tracks in time to slow the train from 50 mph to about 15 mph. The time they bought by slamming on the brakes before the train demolished the bus was the difference between a near miss and devastating tragedy that would have turned the world upside down for so many.
It is easy - and absolutely frightening - to imagine a much different outcome from this smashup, had Padgett and Hannah not responded so quickly and professionally.
The label "hero" is sometimes overused, but it is almost appropriate here. At the very least, they are life-savers. Perhaps it wasn't the traditional scenario where someone risks his life by plunging into icy waters or rushing into a burning building to risk his life for another. In this case, courage came disguised as two men merely paying attention to their surroundings and doing their jobs. Sometimes that's all it takes to avoid a tragic loss of life.
It is easy to take for granted that sort of everyday contribution to the public's safety, but we should not.
The families and friends of the students already are thankful for the poise shown by Regan, the other chaperones and the CSX employees. But the grateful also should not miss this opportunity to drive home the lesson to their loved ones that this is how we take care of each other.