On the brutally cold January day when he rescued two unconscious victims from a burning Englewood house, Chicago Fire Department Captain Mauricio Rodriguez heard a muffled cough.
He thought the sound was coming from firefighters carrying the line behind him. He was wrong.
“I called out. I said, `Are you calling me?’ Didn’t hear anything. Heard a muffled cough again. So, I went back there to investigate and that’s where I saw the two victims,” said Rodriguez, 53.
On Tuesday, the 28-year veteran fire captain/EMT was awarded the Carter Harrison Award, this year’s highest honor for fire bravery.
Rodriguez heroics occurred during a Jan. 18 fire at 64th and Marshfield.
After hearing the cough and confirming that it wasn’t coming from his colleagues, Rodriguez fought through raging flames and thick black smoke to search the building for victims. He found three men, two of them unconscious, the third only semi-conscious and moaning for help.
Rodriguez is credited with fighting through “zero visibility”— without the aid of a thermal imaging camerato help him see — to get the first victim out of the building, then going back in to rescue the second unconscious victim.
“You just go by feel, instinct. You just kind of crawl your way in. It’s just like if I was to cover your eyes and let you crawl through your house. You’d feel your way around,” the father of three said after Tuesday’s ceremony.
“I can’t emphasize enough — if it wasn’t for the other guys who were there that day, the outcome would have been completely different… There’s so many people doing so many things at one time, to single one person out at a fire scene is something I have trouble getting a grasp around.”
Asked how it felt to save two lives, Rodriguez said, “Any time you do something that turns out well, you’re gonna be happy. That’s what we do. But we also see the other side of the coin where it doesn’t turn out the way we would like it to.”
The Lambert Tree Award, this year’s highest honor for police bravery, was awarded to Chicago Police Officer Abdullah Beyah.
Beyah’s moment to shine occurred on Aug. 28, 2012 after the Gresham District got a tip of an impending gang shooting and assigned the officer and his partner to a fixed location at 79th and Paulina.
There, they found giant dumpsters blocking entry to several alleys. That’s a sure sign that a gang shooting was about to go down and that gang members were plotting their post-shooting getaway.
While moving the dumpsters, Beyah and his partner heard shots going off in the 7800-block of South Marshfield. Seconds later, a masked gunman ran in front of their squad car, triggering a high-speed chase.
When the gunman jumped over a gate into a backyard, Beyah got out of the squad car, jumped over the gate and chased him on foot before coming face-to-face with the masked gunman, who was pointing a gun at the officer and firing at point-blank range.
Beyah dropped to his knees and shot the offender multiple times before the offender managed to hit him.
The body of a murder victim was found near the scene of the shoot-out.
“The first thing I did was I threw up my hand to kind of shield my face from taking the shot. I knew I was gonna get hit because we were that close. So, that was nothing but God that protected me,” Beyah recalled.
“I asked my partner when it was over how long was the incident. To me, it seemed a good five, 10 minutes. And it was all of 30 seconds. It seems like a lifetime. There was no one else on the street but me and him. It’s a scary situation for anyone to go through.”
Beyah said he’s been taught to train the way you want to perform so that, when you encounter real danger, your brain has a “file system” to recall that tells you how to react.
“If you’ve never encountered any kind of situation similar to that, there’s no file there to tell you how to react,” said Beyah, 37.
“But I was born and raised in the city of Chicago. I’ve seen people shot.…I’ve had family members shot. I lost my uncle when I was in high school. He was robbed on the way to work. He was shot. In high school, you see people shot in front of your school. It’s the city of Chicago.”