WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, March 2, 2021) — AAA is proud to celebrate its School Safety Patrol program’s centennial anniversary. For 100 years, Patrollers around the world have provided school-aged children an extra sense of safety and security when going to and from school. The program and its more than 440 Lifesaving Award recipients have contributed to the steady decline of U.S. student pedestrian (ages 5–14) deaths—a 24% decrease since 2010.
“AAA’s School Safety Patrol program is the world’s largest school-based safety program. We could not be prouder of the thousands of young men and women annually who dedicate their time before and after school each day to ensure the safety of their classmates,” said AAA President and CEO, and former Patroller, Marshall Doney. “This community program teaches safety and leadership skills to ensure our youngest generations are making smart decisions. I can attest first hand. The important pedestrian and traffic safety measures I learned as a Patroller had a profound and lasting impact on my career.”
Created to make schoolchildren safer while walking to school, the program has grown-up and matured with the times while remaining steadfast to its mission to provide a safer environment and leadership opportunities for millions of schoolchildren.
“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,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, who was also a former AAA School Safety Patroller in his youth too. “The training that Patrollers receive instills safety sense beyond street crossings, including bus and car drop-offs, monitoring hallway congestion, and teaching Patrollers invaluable leadership skills.”
In fact, the famous Patroller belt has seen change, too, going from white to neon orange to today’s fluorescent green called ‘Lectric Lime.
“Patrollers direct children, not traffic. Their focus is on helping students be safe where traffic is concerned,” said AAA Traffic Safety Advocacy and Community Impact Manager Rhonda Shah. “Their actions save lives. Patrollers serve as role models in schools across the country.”
A Bethesda, Maryland family has served with distinction with the AAA School Safety Patrol program for more than two-thirds of the program’s existence. It is at once a marvelous accomplishment and an inter-generational achievement. Decades ago, Frederic G. (Buzzy) Burke, Jr. was a AAA School Safety Patroller at Our Lady of Lourdes School. In November 1958, he was stationed at an island at the very busy intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and East West Highway in Bethesda. A 6-year-old boy ran out under Buzz’s outstretched arms, to pick up dropped papers as a truck and oncoming traffic were approaching. Buzz darted out, without regard to his safety, held up his arms, yelled “Stop” to the traffic. Cars skidded to a stop, barely missing both boys, as Fred grabbed the boy and brought him to safety. This act of bravery was witnessed by a police officer.
Fred Burke, a native Washingtonian, was accorded a prestigious national award for saving the life, the AAA Gold Lifesaver Medal. Based on his heroics, Buzzy Burke got a lot of buzz in the media back in 1959. Buzz was invited to appear on “To Tell the Truth,” which was originally broadcast on CBS from 1956 to 1968. The segment was titled “Will the Real Buzzy Burke Please Stand Up?”
Buzz was presented his AAA Gold Lifesaver Medal in a ceremony graced by then First Lady of the United States, Mamie G. Eisenhower, the wife President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served in the Oval Office from 1953 to 1961. In May 1959 the young hometown hero also received a letter of commendation from then Vice President Richard Nixon. In June 1959, Buzz’s heroism was commended in the Congressional Record, based on the extension of remarks on floor of House of Representatives by Maryland Congressman John R. Foley on June 5, 1959. AAA bestowed the medal upon Buzz during the 1958-1959 academic year. By then, the highest award given to a Patroller for saving the life of a person in imminent danger was less than a decade old. Buzz later served his nation as a Captain in the U.S. Army, which took him to an active duty overseas posting in Korea 1970-71. After completing college, law school, and graduate school, Frederic G. Burke embarked upon a successful career in banking and fiduciary and asset management.
During his marriage of 50 years to his wife Rita, Buzz eventually passed on the mantle of the AAA Safety Patrol, as well as the spirit of its recognizable badge and safety belt, to his children and his children’s children. To date, three successive generations of the Burke family have also served as members of the AAA School Safety Patrol. Two sons of Buzz and his wife, Rita Burke, were AAA School Safety Patrollers in Bethesda. Plus, two of their grandsons were members of the AAA School Safety Patrol, and a third grandson will become a member of the AAA School Safety Patrol program during the next academic year.
Fred Burke is one of the nation’s more than 440 recipients of the AAA Lifesaving Award, which was first awarded in 1949. As a forever keepsake, the Burke family still has the AAA Lifesaver Medal conferred upon him six decades ago. Mr. Burke currently resides in Bethesda, Maryland with his family.
For some students, becoming a Patroller is inspired by wanting to help others and the privilege to wear the ‘Lectric Lime belt and badge proudly. For others, it is also a tradition passed on from generation to generation, like 14-year-old Kayo Cook from Richmond, Virginia, whose uncle, grandfather, and great grandfather all proudly served as Patrollers. The belt may come off after fifth grade, but the leadership values and safety awareness have inspired many to pursue admirable careers, including the sitting president.
Other notable Patrollers include Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, astronauts, governors, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, Olympic medalists, and authors, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney. Many Patrollers now serve as educators, executives, and community leaders. Some, like Karen Guilbeault, enter law enforcement. Guilbeault rose to become the first female captain in the Cranston, R.I., police department and their first to graduate from the FBI’s National Academy in Virginia.
“Being a patroller helped me get involved in community service and gave me a sense of belonging and instilled self-confidence,” said Guilbeault. “It opened so many doors for me and formed my interest in going into law enforcement.”
The 2020–21 school year, different as it may be, boasts 679,000 Patrollers in 35,000 schools in the United States. The legacy doesn’t stop here, however. Over the last 100 years, interest in and excitement for the program have spread around the world. The AAA model has been adopted in at least 30 other countries, including England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
Since 1920, AAA provides various equipment and education materials to Patrollers, including reflective belts, patrol badges and training resources. To learn how to bring the AAA School Safety Patrol to your school, email SchoolSafetyPatrol@national.aaa.com.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 60 million members nationwide and nearly 82,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit http://aaa.com