TALES OF TAKOMA: Local heroes

TALES OF TAKOMA • DIANA KOHN

The New Hampshire Avenue bridge story of two weeks ago included a mention of the August 1969 rescue attempt during a flash flood that took the lives of two Prince Georges County volunteer firefighters. The historic marker honoring them has since been re-installed on the bridge.

Carnegie medal

The Carnegie Hero medal.

A third rescuer from that night survived. Colin Edgar Turner, then 18, was the first to reach the swamped car in the creek and free the trapped Knowles family. He helped them reach the precarious safety of the Sligo Bridge. They all watched as the two firefighters attempting to complete the rescue were swept away by the current.

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The newly re-installed plaque honoring the two volunteer firefighters who died in Sligo Creek at the New Hampshire Avenue bridge. Photo by Bill Brown.

Turner was subsequently recognized as a Carnegie Hero – his story since posted on the Carnegie Hero website.  Andrew Carnegie established the fund in 1904, prompted by heroic rescue efforts in the wake of a coal mine explosion. The fund awards medals to “individuals in the U.S. and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving and attempting to save the lives of others.” More than 100 years later, the fund continues to honor civilians heroes (those in the line of duty, like the two firefighters, are not eligible).

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Washington Star March 19, 1955 article reporting Frank Wise’s Carnegie award. Click on image to see a pdf of the whole page.

Among the 131 names of Marylanders who have been cited as Carnegie Heroes over the 100-plus years, is a second resident of Takoma Park.  Businessman Frank Wise, age 42, was sitting in the Visitors Gallery of the House of Representatives on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists pulled guns and fired 30 rounds on the legislators below. Wise tackled one of the gunmen and managed to pull him into the hallway, where security guards assisted in the capture.  Seeing the final assailant leave the Gallery, he shouted to authorities and proceeded to pinion the man’s arms until more help arrived.

So today we honor not one, but two Carnegie Heroes.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.