BETHESDA, Md. (WDVM) — Bethesda local Frederic Burke is one of 440 people who saved a life while serving in AAA’s School Safety Patrol program. He saved the life of a young boy in 1959 when he was just 12 years old at the busy intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and East West Highway in Bethesda.
“I remember it as if it was yesterday. I ran out, it was all I could do, didn’t even think about it, frankly, just thought that was what we had to do,” said Burke.
AAA is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of this program. It is the world’s largest school-based safety program, educating young men and women on how to ensure the safety of their peers at school. AAA believes its program has contributed to the 24% decrease in student pedestrian (ages 5-14) deaths since 2010.
Burke recalled that the boy had dropped his papers in the street and ran back to get them when a truck and other cars were approaching. Burke held up his arms and yelled “stop” to halt the oncoming traffic.
“What really worked, however, was that a police officer watched it and basically walked over and said ‘I can’t believe you did that’,” stated Burke.
Soon after, Burke was flown to New York to participate in the CBS broadcast “To Tell the Truth.” Next, he was invited to the White House to receive the AAA Gold Lifesaver medal.
“And then when I returned, I received another phone call that said they were going to send me down to the White House, and I went to the White House and I met with Mamie Eisenhower,” explained Burke.
The safety patrol legacy has continued for three generations in the Burke family.
“All of my children became safety patrols. My wife is a teacher at a Catholic school, and she basically is one of the sponsors of the safety patrol, and I assume that my grandchildren will also be in the safety patrol,” said Burke.
In a statement, John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs said, “It started as a boys-only initiative when horses and buggies were still a transportation mode, the AAA School Safety Patrol program has evolved to include girls.”
Today, the program teaches safety beyond street crossings, including bus and car drop-offs, monitoring hallway congestion and teaching patrols leadership skills according to AAA.
Currently, 679,000 safety patrols are involved in the program at 35,000 schools nationwide.