Courtesy of Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department
Alan Patrick Sondej, was a live-in volunteer firefighter at the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department who died March 16, 1988 from complications of burn injuries sustained battling a house fire at 2020 Wardman Road in the early morning hours of January 27 of the same year.
Al, 37, was a graduate student at the University of Maryland and was scheduled for his last night with the department before heading back overseas to teach sustainable agriculture techniques — also a volunteer position. He had been a member of the department for nearly 11 years to the day of his injury.
The Wardman Road call was for a house fire with a reported woman trapped inside. On board Truck 1, Al and the crew went in to search. Flames overtook him in a reported flashover, and he was badly burned over 60% of his body. His incredible physical condition helped him survive and get himself out of the home.
For the next seven weeks, Al fought for his life at Washington Hospital Center. He briefly appeared to be recovering — but in the evening hours of March 16, word came that he had succumbed to his injuries.
It was later discovered that the woman had escaped the fire prior to the fire department’s arrival.
While a student at the Notre Dame University, Sondej took up the cause of world hunger during his undergraduate years. He managed to collect $25,000 from the students outside the school’s dining hall (pictures below), which was donated to the Third World Relief Fund and other relief organizations. He graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in sociology.
After graduation, Sondej began an internship with the Overseas Development Council where he traveled across the U.S. to speak on the issue of world hunger. Sondej moved to Washington, D.C. in 1977 to continue his education at Maryland and the Catholic University of America. During that time he worked with the Vatican and did research on ways to solve the hunger problem across the globe.
The Notre Dame Alumni Association’s 85,000 members honored Sondej posthumously in 1990 for his efforts by presenting his family with the Dr. Thomas Dooley Award. The recipient of the award is someone who works to allow others to have the gift of life.
Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department’s ladder truck is now dedicated to Al.