Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published in January 2022.
A Unity firefighter was killed while trying to rescue a family caught in a flash flood more than 60 years ago may have a bridge named after him.
Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry, D-Waldo, submitted legislation in 2022 to rename a bridge over Sandy Stream in Unity after Alton “Mac” McCormick.
The bridge, then called Bridge 5228, carries Routes 202 and 9 over Sandy Stream. It’s where McCormick, the town’s assistant fire chief, was swept away and drowned on Sept. 11, 1954.
While the stream is usually placid, that was not the case after Hurricane Edna smashed into Maine and New Hampshire in 1954. The storm brought heavy winds and 7.5 inches of rain, which was especially problematic because it was the second big storm in less than two weeks.
First came Hurricane Carol, with winds high enough to tear down the spire of the Old North Church in Boston, and a storm surge of 12 feet in Providence, Rhode Island. In New England, 65 people died in that storm, which left a third of the residents without power and caused widespread damage.
When Hurricane Edna hit 10 days later, the ground was already saturated and the additional rainwater flooded rivers and streams and washed out roads, causing devastation across the state.
The Brockway family of Albion was caught in the flooding. Fred Brockway was driving with his wife and eight children that Saturday evening when their car became stuck in the rising waters of the Sandy Stream about 150 feet from the bridge.
“The water rose quickly and the family climbed onto the top of the car,” the Bangor Daily News reported at the time. “Unity Fire Chief Max Fortier, who was at the scene, quickly summoned men who formed a human chain from the dry land next to the bridge to the stranded car.”
McCormick, 47, and a Massachusetts man who happened to be spending his honeymoon in the area, used a guard rail to anchor their rope. They passed Thelma, 2, and Blanche, 5, 100 feet from the car to safety.
But then disaster struck.
“Suddenly, a small building came down the waters and smashed into the human chain,” the article said.
McCormick and two other men were swept away. Then Brockway, who was close to his car, lost his grip on his 8-year-old daughter, Ruth.
At that point, a second rescue effort was begun, this time to find the people who had been swept down the stream. A crew launched a boat from the shore near the Unity grammar school but kept it tied to shore with a rope. They found one of the rescuers, who was chilled and barely holding on to a floating tree, and were able to get him to safety.
Men on another boat were able to locate the second rescuer “by his shouts,” the article read, and pulled him aboard.
But no one found McCormick that night. A week later, his body was located near the outlet of the Sandy Stream, about 100 yards below the place where Ruth Brockway’s body had been recovered.
The rest of the Brockway family, including a 7-month-old infant, were rescued early in the morning after spending most of the night atop their stranded car.
McCormick was survived by his widow, seven children and eight grandchildren, according to BDN archives. In November 1954, he was posthumously awarded the state’s first civilian citation for bravery.
Correction: an earlier version of this story referenced an incorrect spelling of Alton McCormick’s name.
BDN writer Leela Stockley contributed to this report.