When the smell of smoke awoke Briana Jackson-Bey Sunday morning, she got out of bed and saw that a fire on the stove where her husband had been cooking potatoes in a skillet was growing out of control.
Panicking, Jackson-Bey, 25, broke the glass to the the extinguisher in the hallway outside her fourth-floor apartment at 1055 N. Catalpa in the Edgewater neighborhood.
“We tried to use it, but unfortunately when [my husband] squirted the fire extinguisher nothing really came out, just a little, so it wasn’t helping,” said Jackson-Bey, a certified nursing assistant who works in hospice.
As she went to alert management on the second floor, others in the four-story brick building began to notice the smell of smoke as well.
On the third floor, the smell roused Philip Johnson, who went to his window and began yelling “Help!” to firefighters as they began to arrive.
A firefighter wearing an oxygen mask appeared at his door moments later and escorted Johnson, 49, to a window. Firefighters below leaned a ladder against it. “He told me ‘We’re going out this way,’” said Johnson, who descended the ladder to safety.
Witnesses said at least 10 others, including several children, were saved by firefighters using ladders.
Fire officials said a woman about 55 years old was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in serious-to-critical condition, and two men who suffered smoke inhalation were taken to Presence Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston in fair-to serious condition.
The fire, which started about 8 a.m., was contained to several units and extinguished within 30 minutes, according to fire officials on the scene.
Johnson, a social worker, praised rescuers and thanked God he was alive. “They were excellent, professional, and they obviously helped me. I wouldn’t have known how to get out of there without them,” he said.
Residents, some shirtless and shoeless, others holding cats, tried to figure out when fire officials would let them back into the building Sunday morning as rain began to fall.
Diandra Ritchie, 35, ran out without her cat. “A firefighter went into my apartment and brought her to me later,” she said as Bacardi, her cat, sat in a car carrier by her feet.