"If anyone was going to do that, you would expect it to be Nico," Nico Sierra's stepmom tells PEOPLE

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated September 18, 2015 04:30 PM
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A school bus loaded with 27 elementary school children plunged into a pond near Tampa, Florida, on Thursday, and only one child was injured, thanks in part to the actions of one brave 10-year-old boy.

“I was riding on the bus and then we hit a tree and the glass broke and then we hit another tree that sent us straight into the pond,” Nicholas “Nico” Sierra tells PEOPLE.

As children scrambled screaming and crying from the bus, Nico – Mary E. Bryant Elementary School’s newly-appointed safety patroller – sprung into action, carrying a kindergarten student to safety.

“I saw my friend, she was under the water, so I grabbed her and put her arms around my neck and I brought her to the front window,” he recalls. “Then, I waved to two cars for help and then I went back and got two other kids and brought them out.”

Three sheriff’s deputies arrived to assist in the rescue, double-checking the bus roster to make sure every child had been located. Everyone was accounted for and only one student was treated for minor injuries.

Minutes after the accident, one of Nico’s classmates called the young boy’s parents, Deborah and Michael Sierra, who sped to the scene.

“My husband and I got a phone call from one of Nico’s friends who was on another bus and saw what happened,” Deborah tells PEOPLE. “He called and said, ‘There’s been an accident, Nico is fine, but he can’t call you because his phone’s in the water.’ ”

“So we were very scared, but we got straight in the car and in less than 10 minutes, we arrived on the scene and found Nico.”

Deborah says she was shocked by the accident – the cause of which is still under investigation – but not by her stepson’s bravery. “Nico’s a very brave kid and he always helps everyone around him,” she says. “If anyone was going to do that, you would expect it to be Nico.”

The fifth-grader called the experience “surreal” and was able to return to school the next day – just not on the bus.

His family celebrated Nico’s heroism by taking him to a baseball game on Friday. “We’re all very, very proud of Nico as a family,” his mom says.