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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fire Victim Meets Rescuer 58 Years After Fire is Out

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930
MEBrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO

A reunion 58 years in the making occurred today, January 31, not far from where this group first met, although under different circumstances.  On a hot summer day in August 1959, a fire erupted on the first floor of a two-story, with basement, single family home in the 7600 block of 25th Avenue in Hyattsville.  

Two sibling children, ages 2 and 3, were napping upstairs while mom was doing laundry in the basement.  Upon returning upstairs the fire was discovered and she went outside to seek help.

An off-duty Prince George’s County Police Officer (currently unidentified), believed to have been living in a house in the rear of the house on fire, either saw the house on fire and/or heard the screams for help and immediately provided assistance.  He secured a nearby ladder and positioned it against the house, up to a second floor window.  By doing so saved valuable seconds as Fire Sergeant Hartman and Fire Fighter Newman arrived and quickly ascended the ladder.  The firefighters entered the home, where they began searching for the children.  Newman located 2-year-old Linda Hart and carried her to the window where the police officer was waiting at the top.  Newman handed off Linda to the officer who immediately provided her to EMTs in the front yard.

Fire Fighter Newman continued his search and quickly located 3-year-old Michael Hart.  Newman removed his breathing air face piece and placed it over the face of the young child to provide fresh breathing air.  Newman exited the house by way of the interior stairwell as other firefighters had extinguished the first floor kitchen fire.

Both children were transported to a hospital, where they were treated and released.

Siblings Michael and Linda Hart reached out via Facebook, in an effort to meet their rescuers.  This day marks the successful outcome of their quest.  Nearly 58 years later, Retired Battalion Chief Stu Newman was reunited with the brother and sister. 

During the reunion, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Chief Deputy Benjamin M. Barksdale spoke of the differences between then and now, with regard to protecting families from fire and other hazards.   In 1959, heavyweight home construction allowed time for rescues such as this.  Fires now burn quicker due to lightweight construction and the toxicity level of smoke is higher, the result of materials used in furnishings.  Chief Barksdale emphasized that very few homes in 1959, if any, had the protection of residential sprinklers and smoke alarms.  These potentially life-saving devices, which were cost prohibitive and bulky, were mainly used in commercial construction.  Today, homes in Prince George’s County are built with residential sprinklers, as well as 10-year smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Linda and Michael Hart each spoke about their personal memories about that day and what they have been told by family members.  The pair likewise shared how the incident has played a major role in their lives.  This was, however, the first time the Harts heard an actual firsthand account of that day from one of their rescuers, as Newman shared his recollection of the incident. 

As a result of this event and a review of Stuart Newman’s records, the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department discovered that he was never properly awarded his retirement credentials.  He was presented his Retired Battalion Chief badge and identification card by Chief Deputy Barksdale.  

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Participant Bios

Linda Hart, who was two years-old at the time of the incident, grew up in Rockville where her brother Michael still lives.  She currently resides in Tumwater, Washington with her husband Peter Teets and 16-year-old daughter Claire.  She is a Unitarian Universalist minister and has served congregations in Vermont, Connecticut, Spokane, London (England) and presently serves a congregation in Tacoma, Washington. 

Michael Hart, who was three years-old when the incident occurred, lives in the same home his family moved into in 1960.  He is currently a Tour Guide with Old Town Trolley in the District of Columbia.  On Tuesday evenings he plays music from and about Louisiana on station WOWD-FM.  He is also a promoter, Cajun and Zydeco dance teacher, a Geochacher (geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants us a GPS receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.  Michael has one daughter, Sarah, who resides in Laurel.

Edwin Stuart “Stu” Newman, Jr., age 84, was born in Oakland, California.  After serving four years with the USMC Reserve, he joined the Tuxedo-Cheverly Volunteer Fire Department.  In 1955, after moving to Adelphi, he became a member of the Chillum-Adelphi Volunteer Fire Department.  Stu was hired as a career firefighter with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department in 1959.  He received a medal in 1975, for actions taken at a structural failure on Metzerott Road. The following year after starting his career with the Fire/EMS Department, Stu began teaching for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.  Currently, he is on sabbatical due to a shoulder reconstruction.

An avid roller skater, Stu began skating in at the Bladensburg Skating Rink in 1949.  He began competing in roller dance competitions in 1978 and skated in his last dance competition in 1997.  He continued to figure skate until January 2016.

Stu currently enjoys a blended family with 10 children; 16 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren, with two more expected this year.  His favorite vacation activity is cruising, especially in Alaska.

A young Michael Hart

Michael and Linda Hart

Edwin Stuart “Stu” Newman, Jr.