updated 12/22/2008 5:13:06 PM ET 2008-12-22T22:13:06

A Wisconsin man who lunged in front of a train to save a 3-year-old from certain death and a New York man who twice entered a burning building to rescue two little girls were among 19 people awarded Carnegie medals Monday for their courage.

Merlin Harn, 40, and his wife were driving by a railroad track on Sept. 1, 2007, in their hometown of Menasha, Wis., when they saw an unattended 3-year-old boy wandering on the tracks.

Before police arrived, the crossing lights, bells and whistles went off. Harn ran to the boy, grabbed him under the arms and carried him to safety seconds before the train passed them, its emergency brake activated.

The Carnegie Heroes Fund gave its fourth group of awards this year to 19 people who risked their own lives to save others. Some of the people died or were injured rescuing others who were drowning, being attacked or were trapped in fires.

Ran into a burning home
Another of the heroes, James Carpenter, was at his home in Gloversville, N.Y., when he noticed the house next door had gone up in flames. Running into the burning building, Carpenter made his way through dense smoke and found two girls trapped on the second floor.

He grabbed 5-year-old Chelsea and made his way out of the house with her, but her 3-year-old sister, Jocelyn, remained inside. Carpenter, 28, re-entered the burning home, ran upstairs and called for the little girl. Grabbing Jocelyn, Carpenter realized the stairs were impassable. He went into a bedroom and lowered her out the window into the arms of two men outside.

Fire and drownings accounted for most of the disasters leading to heroism.

Among the other heroes was Walter Rosenthal, 58, of Toms Place, Calif. He died trying to save James J. Juarez and John S. McAndrews from suffocation after they were buried by snow at a resort in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on April 6, 2006.

Steel baron Andrew Carnegie launched the hero fund in 1904 after hearing about rescue stories from a mine disaster that had killed 181 people. Since then, $31.1 million has been awarded to 9,243 people. Each recipient, or their heirs, receives $6,000 and a medal.

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