COAL TOWNSHIP - The operator of a 25-passenger bus escaped injury Monday afternoon when the vehicle's engine caught fire along Route 61 near the former Sam Bressi Motors, causing extensive front-end damage.

Michael Toter, 30, of Marion Heights, said he was driving the Chevrolet bus south in the east end of Coal Township shortly after 3 p.m. when the vehicle shut off and started smoking heavily under the hood. Toter said he then pulled the bus over to the side of the highway and attempted to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher, but was unable to do so. The driver then called 911 and within minutes, the scene was full of firefighters, rescue personnel and police.

Toter said he was test driving the bus, which did not contain any passengers, when the fire erupted.

The bus is owned by Jared Savitski, of West Chester, who also has a residence at 23 Sheridan St., Coal Township. Savitski operates Paradise Transit Inc., which primarily transports college students in the West Chester area to and from bars and also provides limousine services.

Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III, who is Savitski's uncle, said his nephew owns five similar buses and has them serviced in Coal Township.

Gembic, who arrived at the scene shortly after the fire, said the bus is not insured. The majority of the damage was done to the engine compartment and front interior of the bus.

Fire officials at the scene did not know what caused the engine to catch fire.

Bailey Stank, 18, a firefighter with Maine Fire Company, was one of the first people to offer assistance at the scene.

"I was going to Miller's Gas Station (just up the highway) to get my check when I spotted heavy smoke coming from the bus," Stank said. "I then pulled over and grabbed two fire extinguishers in my vehicle and started spraying them on the passenger side and front of the bus until assistant fire chief Michael Timco arrived at the scene and took over for me because I wasn't wearing any fire gear."

Gembic said the bus was towed from the scene.

Motorists traveling south along the busy highway toward Kulpmont were delayed until the scene was cleared at 3:45 p.m.

In addition to Timco, other Coal Township fire officials responding were fire chief Russ Feese, deputy fire chief Kevin Malukas, rescue squad chief Jim Hoffman, engines from East End, Brady and Maine fire companies, Coal Township Rescue Squad, Shamokin Emergency Squad, AREA Services Ambulance, Coal Township Deputy Police Chief Chris Williams, Patrolman Matthew Hashuga and township fire police.