Impressive UB officer helps two in fire

This Just In ...

August 18, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

BEFORE MORE time passes and this story gets buried in the closet of forgotten deeds, I bring forth Officer Bonnie T. Low of the University of Baltimore campus police. Attention must be paid. Two weeks ago, during an afternoon rush hour, Low acted quickly and probably saved a couple of people who were unaware of the danger they were in.

Low, on duty at a university parking lot, saw a cab traveling up Cathedral Street near Mount Royal Avenue -- and it was on fire. Smoke was under it, smoke behind it. Flames lapped at the doors. Low apparently noticed this before the cabdriver did.

She flashed the lights of her police van, waved the cab to the curb, started yelling, started opening doors. An elderly man was in the front seat. A middle-aged woman was in the rear.

Low told them to get out of the car immediately.

They told her they were disabled.

"The man was in his 70s," Low says. "He was partially blind and an amputee. He'd lost his [left] leg because of diabetes. He had his walker in the front with him. The woman said she was almost blind, too. I told her the car was on fire, and she said, 'I can't see,' and I said, 'You don't have to see. Trust me. Come on, this is a serious situation.'"

Gwyn Smith Ingley, director of a nonprofit agency with an office at UB, was on her way home, saw what was happening and stopped to help.

"When I got there, Officer Low already had these two people perched on their seats, but she still needed help getting them out of the car," Ingley says. "The woman said something about having a 'bad leg' and had difficulty moving. The elderly gentleman really needed his walker to move."

Low and Ingley got both passengers out of the cab -- without, they note, the help of the cabdriver -- and into Ingley's air-conditioned automobile. This took time, and the whole time Ingley kept wondering about something.

She kept wondering when the cab would explode.

"I kept waiting for the blast," she says.

The fire grew, engulfing the cab.

"Officer Low remained cool and in control the whole time," Ingley says. "She directed traffic and handled the situation until the Fire Department arrived. She wanted me to get [the cab passengers] as far away from the scene as possible, so I drove them into the [UB] parking lot and let them relax."

The cab did not explode. Firefighters extinguished the blaze. Eventually, another cab came and took the man and woman to their destinations, safe and sound.

Says Ingley: "The way Officer Low took charge and handled that situation -- it was all very impressive. This was a potentially life-threatening situation and she was just so together, so calm, attentive to everyone's needs. She had so many radars going at once, it was amazing."

Kindness to a 'codger'

I wouldn't call George Fondersmith a codger. I hardly know the man. But he calls himself a codger -- in fact, he emphasizes the characterization by referring to himself as "the old codger" -- so let's go with it.

George Fondersmith, an 81-year-old codger from Towson, has another rush-hour story, also with a satisfying finish.

One steamy day this summer, his Honda broke down -- an engine belt snapped -- in heavy commuter traffic on York Road near Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. He got out of the car and walked north in the heat, toward a gas station. A woman called from her car, a cellular phone at her ear. "They can't help you at that gas station," she shouted. "Let me get someone who can." She gave Fondersmith -- I think I should refer to him as Mr. Fondersmith, don't you? -- a ride back to the Honda.

"What followed had never happened to the old guy in his entire life," the old guy -- I mean, Mr. Fondersmith -- said, referring to his codger-self.

A second woman arrived. Then came a man. The two of them pushed Mr. Fondersmith's Honda off the road. Another woman called a tow truck operator. They were all 20-something co-workers at nearby Universal Trust Mortgage, according to Mr. Fondersmith. They stayed with him the whole time, inviting him into an air-conditioned car during the wait for the tow truck. The young guy gave Mr. Fondersmith a ride home.

Are you getting the idea? This is one of those ACTS OF KINDNESS! stories that amaze people, especially old codgers who don't expect them anymore.

"All these young people, complete strangers, devoted an hour to helping me through a very difficult experience," Mr. Fondersmith said. "Each interrupted a trip home to do it -- Sandra Maxa [the first one to arrive and the one who called the others], Stacie Tomasello, Mike Kauffman and Michele Skjoldager."

Mr. Fondersmith expressed his gratitude with a letter -- not to his rescuers, but to their boss at Universal Trust, congratulating him on his "sensitivity to quality" and commending his "perception in selecting such wonderful people for your company."

Smooth move, old codger. is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He also can be contacted at 410-332-6166, and by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore 21278.

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