Off-duty firefighter helps save baby in Lake Michigan

August 5, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Chicago fire department lieutenant Steve O'Malley was at the right place at the right time on Saturday when a strong gust of wind blew a baby strapped in a stroller right into Lake Michigan and the firefighter quickly jumped into action.

O'Malley was spending a Saturday afternoon tending to his boat when he was un-expectedly called to duty.

"I was determined that the baby was not going to go down on my watch," O'Malley said.

That's how he described his heroic efforts that helped to save the life of a child.

It happened as the off-duty Chicago firefighter was at the 31st street harbor to get his boat ready for this wife's birthday celebration.

The 33-year department veteran says he first saw the stroller bound toddler and his parents just before they walked onto the pier.

That's when witnesses say they unthinkable happened.

"It was just a freak thing," said witness Maynard Welch. "The wind was high and the wheels of the carriage were turned toward the lake. The wind just whipped it right in."

The stroller was sideways in the water with the 18-month-old still strapped inside with the boy face down.

As the baby's mother screamed for help, the child's father jumped in the rescue his son.

The 52-year-old O'Malley, who has two adult daughters of his own, followed.

"I seen the yellow t-shirt the baby had on and grabbed and pulled to baby up in the stroller," O'Malley said.

Several bystanders who witnessed the incredible scene helped hoist the child to safety.

The startled toddler began to cry, but was alright.

"It gave me goose bumps," said witness Alexsandria Hall. "It was a happy ending but it's an eye opening for everybody with children."

Just ask Mary Meade, who is spending the day at the harbor with granddaughter Flannigan.

"We're staying far from the water and holding on, holding on tight," she said.

Sunday, the Southwest Side resident who was recently promoted to lieutenant, remains uncomfortable with all the recognition.

He downplays his actions, crediting his years of fire department training for his good deed.

"Glad I was here," he said. "Right place and the right time."

Colleagues say they are not surprised by the actions of O'Malley, whose promotion becomes official during a Navy Pier ceremony next Friday.

The child did not have to be hospitalized and his parents were so grateful that they invited firefighter O'Malley to a cookout on their boat that was docked nearby.

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