Firefighters suffer heat exhaustion on North Side

May 27, 2012 9:34:06 PM PDT
Battling a fire in Sunday's heat proved to be too much for some firefighters in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.

The firefighters were overcome by heat while trying to put out flames at a burning building in the 6100-block of N. Kenmore. Some firefighters sat and hydrated themselves, some were treated at the scene, but six firefighters were transported to hospitals. One suffered a shoulder injury, and the others suffered from heat exhaustion.

A Chicago police officer was also injured, and eight residents from the four-story apartment building were transported by ambulance.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago says the injuries could have been much worse were it not for the help of nearby residents.

Just before 11 a.m., a fire started on the 3rd floor of a far North Side apartment building and quickly spread to the hallway, producing heavy smoke throughout the building.

Ernest Prentic and Areal Delacruz were down the street when they saw the smoke and heard people screaming. The men immediately ran to help.

"I see a guy holding this baby out the window to get air so I climbed a fence... and I grabbed the baby from him and he was down, so I started passing the kid down, and then I jumped down... we got the mom down," said Prentic.

Mark Blackburn also came running to help another family get out.

"There was a baby in a car seat and a few other children - four other children and the mother and the father - I helped them best I could to get out of the apartment that was on fire," said Blackburn.

Ashante Anderson lives on the floor where the fire started. She felt her legs get hot.

"It's either you're going to jump or you're going to sit here and burn, so I was trying to jump, and then thank God they was there with a ladder by the time I was thinking about jumping, and I thank God i got out of there safe," said Anderson.

The fire department says that not only did citizens help rescue residents from the building; they also helped the fire department with some very heavy and difficult equipment.

"We had two civilians help the firefighters when they first got down there to go ahead and pull out these lines that exceed over 200 pounds as they went and made their initial attack," said Santiago. "For someone to take it upon themselves to help the firefighters is awesome."

Santiago said that while the department responded quickly, it took time to set up, because the street is very tight. Besides pulling the lines, Santiago says firefighters had to raise seven 100-pound ladders to rescue people.

"The firefighters wear this turnout gear that is extremely heavy - it is to protect them, but one of the drawbacks about it - it heats up the inner core," said Santiago.

Fortunately, none of the injuries were critical. All 15 people were taken to the hospital in stable condition.

Many residents stuck around during the day after the fire with nowhere to go until a bus arrived Sunday night to take them to a shelter. Barbara Pustelack is thankful that she and her family made it out alive.

"It was scary - very scary. All I can worry about is my kids," said Pustelack.

After getting his own family out, Alex Zamora and four others jumped on an overhang to get a mother who was hanging out of a fourth-floor window with her kids, including a newborn.

"I heard her scream; I looked up, and she has her newborn baby in a baby seat just swinging, trying to get him some air," said Zamora.

Santiago says the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He believes it started in a kitchen on the third floor.

Since all of the residents of the four-story building were displaced, the Red Cross is providing shelter.

Several residents complained that some of the smoke detectors did not work and there were no fire extinguishers in the hallways. The Fire Department could not confirm that Sunday evening..

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