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June 19, 2011

Medics, firefighters credited with saving Chicago police sergeant

By Maudlyne Ihejirika
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO -- As Engine Co. 117 and Tower Ladder 14 roared toward the still and box fire in the 4900 block of West Concord Place, the report over the radio said there were multiple calls about people trapped inside one of the burning bungalows.

Upon arrival, Engineer Paul Strubee barged into the front door of the 1 1/2-story bungalow at 4928 W. Concord, finding a woman in her 40s collapsed in a front room, suffering from smoke inhalation after apparently trying to make it to the front door. Pushing deeper into the thick, smoke-filled rear of the home, firefighter Jason Risley would find a victim worse off.

The firefighters and paramedics who responded to the fire that broke out about noon on the West Side Friday are credited with saving the lives of the woman and a 63-year-old, retired Chicago Police sergeant who lived there.

"It was an amazing rescue," Chicago Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor said of the responding crew.

Upon finding the first victim, Strubee picked her up and carried her out as Risley, a firefighter-emergency medical technician, pushed past him.

"We encountered heavy smoke conditions on the first floor as we proceeded to the rear of the house," Capt. James Rice said. "Firefighter Risley ended up finding the second victim and bringing him up."

That victim was Berklin Fowles, who had retired as a police sergeant in 2009 after some 35 years on the force.

Fowles was face down on the floor, apparently having just made it down a flight of stairs from an upper master bedroom.

Risley called for help. Firefighter Jesse Warfield and Acting Lt. Carlos Hernandez made their way into the blackness.

The three carried Fowles out.

"He was not breathing. Our guys went to work. We began CPR, then transferred him to ambulance 45," Hernandez said.

Added MacGregor: "He was initially in cardiac arrest and unconscious, but paramedics from Tower Ladder 14 and Engine 117 worked on him and got him talking."

That crew, along with the entire responding detail - Battalions 8 and 13, Engine Co. 76, Truck Co. 35, Squad 2, and Ambulances 45 and 52 - were hailed as heroes.

"They did a great job," Sean O'Driscoll, Battalion 13 Chief, said at a news conference later in the day. "As far as I know, the victims are doing OK"

The cause of the fire, which began about noon in a bedroom of 4928 W. Concord and spread to an empty, neighboring home at 4930 W. Concord, was under investigation. The crew got it quickly extinguished. No smoke detectors were found inside the home at 4928 W. Concord, which sustained heavy damage, officials said.

Both victims were taken to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park in serious condition from smoke inhalation. But later Friday, Fowles, who worked most of his career out of the Austin District. was "conscious and talking," a police spokesman said. The firefighters who saved him don't see themselves as heroes. They were just doing their job, said Risley.

"It's a scary feeling when you come across a victim like that. But we all had to do what we had to do to get him out of there," the firefighter said. "That's just what we do. I'm glad he's all right."

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