Two Firefighters Awarded Carnegie Medal

Updated: 05-18-2006 11:26:35 AM


The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission recently released its second group of Carnegie Medal awardees for 2006.

Each year the Pittsburgh-based philanthropic foundation recognizes close to a hundred people for their life-saving efforts. The latest list of names, announced May 11, consisted of 16 individuals, including two firefighters.

Christopher N. White of Carrollton, Ga., and Keith Leuci of Paris, Tenn., were recognized for rescues they conducted in 2005 and 2004 respectively.

Along with the medal, each recipient also receives a $4,000 grant. The latest announcement brings the number of individuals recognized for the award this year to 36 and to 8,997 since the award's inception in 1904. Founded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the fund has awarded $28.5 million in grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.

"There was never recognition of man-on-the-street heroism" before the award, the commission's managing director, Douglas R. Chambers, said. "It happened all the time and went unrecognized. Carnegie wanted to recognize people that went above and beyond to help people."

Here are the stories that inspired the Carnegie Hero Fund to award the two men for their good deeds:

Christopher N. White

White, a volunteer with Carroll County, Ga. Fire Rescue and EMA since February 2004, was vacationing at Miramar Beach, Florida -- off of the Gulf of Mexico -- June 25, 2005, when panic hit the shore.

"I heard someone on the shore say, 'Call 911,'" he said. The person had heard a young girl's scream from the water. White said he immediately wanted to know what happened. "My first reaction was to ask what was going on, but no one really knew," he said.

When White looked toward the direction people on shore were pointing to, he saw an empty boogie board. He decided the girl who screamed was drowning. In reality, the girl, 14-year-old Jamie M. Daigle, had been bitten by a shark and it was the screams from her friend who escaped the attack that alarmed the onlookers.

"I thought it was just a drowning," he said, adding that the girl was between 70 to 100 yards away from the shore. "I had no idea it was a shark attack." White then took a small raft with him as he entered the water, unaware of what he would find.

As he approached the location of the girl, he saw that Jack Timothy Dicus of Destin, Florida, had spotted the attack while surfing. Dicus had fought off the shark and put the girl on his board.

When White arrived at what he described as a "blood pool," he and Dicus loaded Jamie on the raft and proceeded to bring her ashore. When they came closer to land another man, Robert Atkinson, helped them from the water.

The men tried to revive Jamie, but because of her injuries, they were unsuccessful. Both Discus and White were exhausted from the rescue but would soon recover. White was disappointed they could not save the girl, but said they did the best they could.

Looking back on the incident, White said he brought in some of his training he received for his part-time position as an EMT but that overall it was much different than anything he's done. "That's definitely been the most dangerous situation I've put myself in, that's for sure," he said. "I guess in house fires you have some control over what happens, but with a marine animal" you don't know what it will do.

White said he originally got involved in fire and rescue services for the medical aspect, but quickly got into fighting fires as well. "The first time you get into it, I guess the bug just bites you," he said. "It's a very addictive hobby."

Aside from volunteering and working as an EMT, White is working toward his master's degree in biology at the University of West Georgia.

Keith Leuci

Leuci, a former resident of Hamilton Township, N.J., and a volunteer firefighter with the Cologne Fire Company, rescued a passenger from a burning car in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Aug. 20, 2004. Leuci has since moved to Paris, Tenn.

The passenger, 26-year-old James E. Barnes, was in a car that collided with a SUV entering its lane. The SUV then struck another car, landing atop it. All of the cars caught fire. Leuci responded to the accident call and when he arrived heard the screams of Barnes, who was trying to escape the flames through the car's window.

Leuci attempted to pull Barnes away from the flames by prying away the door. They collapsed to the pavement as the flames continued to grow. Others would arrive to help the two men from the fire. Moments later a fireball would erupt, engulfing the car.

The driver of the car died on the scene. Barnes was hospitalized for injuries including severe burns. Leuci also required medical attention for severe burns and other injuries.