Firefighter killed in West Pullman fire was ‘my hero,’ dad says

Jermaine Pelt, 49, a Chicago firefighter since 2005, “went down” as crews were ordered out of the area due to worsening conditions, Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said.

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Chicago firefighters salute the motorcade bringing firefighter Jermaine Pelt to the Cook County medical examiner’s office on Tuesday.

Chicago firefighters salute the motorcade bringing firefighter Jermaine Pelt to the Cook County medical examiner’s office on Tuesday.

Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

When Jermaine Pelt was deciding almost two decades ago whether to become a firefighter or a police officer, he sought his dad’s advice.

“The police get shot at,” John Pelt told his youngest son.

On Tuesday, as he emerged from the Far South Side firehouse decorated with purple bunting in honor of his boy, John Pelt spoke not about regret but with pride in how his son had raced into a burning house in the pre-dawn hours — thinking of others first.

“I felt wonderful,” Pelt said, flanked by firefighters struggling to hold back tears. “That’s why I picked the fire department.”

Jermaine Pelt died early Tuesday while working to put out an extra-alarm fire in the West Pullman neighborhood.

John Pelt, the father of firefighter Jermaine Pelt, speaks about his son and his loss at Chicago Fire Department Engine 115, Engine 75 & Tower 24 at 1024 W 119th St, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

John Pelt, the father of firefighter Jermaine Pelt, talks about his son Tuesday outside a Chicago Fire Department station at 1024 W 119th St.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Crews responded to the house fire about 3:15 a.m. in the 12000 block of South Wallace Street, the Chicago Fire Department said. The blaze eventually spread to three buildings, Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt told reporters Tuesday morning.

Pelt, a firefighter Nance-Holt knew personally, was dousing the fire with a hose from the second floor of a neighboring building when that structure also caught fire.

Pelt was working alongside a lieutenant when the two received an order to evacuate the building due to worsening conditions, Chicago fire spokesman Larry Langford said.

Pelt “had been in face-to-face communication with his partner: ‘We got to go!’ And his partner started to leave and thought [Pelt] was right behind him. When they realized that he went down, a May Day was called,” Langford said.

Firefighter Jermaine Pelt

Firefighter Jermaine Pelt

Chicago Fire Department

Nance-Holt said Pelt, 49, was quickly found and brought out for treatment.

“Our firefighters and paramedics, they worked feverishly on Jermaine, doing CPR all the way from the scene to Christ Hospital,” Nance-Holt said.

Pelt was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to officials.

Pelt joined the Chicago Fire Department in 2005 and was based on the South Side his whole career, Nance-Holt said.

“I would call him a hero. He’s my hero,” John Pelt said. “Right now I’m not feeling that great.”

John Pelt, a retired Chicago Transit Authority motorman, said his son had a proud moment in November when he walked his 28-year-old daughter down the aisle to get married.

The newlywed had delayed her honeymoon and was about to leave town for Jamaica when tragedy struck, he said.

“I don’t think she’s feeling that great, either,” he said in a soft voice.

The house fire on the 12000 block of south Wallace where firefighter Jermaine Pelt lost his life, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

Firefighter Jermaine Pelt died Tuesday after battling a house fire on the 12000 block of South Wallace Street.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It was clear from a young age that his son was special, John Pelt said.

“When Jermaine was a baby, about 2 years old, he was real smart. He would get a knife and cut himself on the arm so he could get a Band-Aid. And I said, ‘This kid is going to be pretty special.’ He ended up being a nurse and a paramedic and a fireman,” his father said.

Pelt graduated from Corliss High School in the Pullman neighborhood before attending Olive-Harvey College, his father said.

He celebrated a birthday in March and had a son who is 6 years old.

Lt. David Bernicky talks Tuesday about fallen firefighter Jermaine Pelt at Chicago Fire Department Engine 115 at 1024 W 119th St.

Lt. David Bernicky talks Tuesday about fallen firefighter Jermaine Pelt at Chicago Fire Department Engine 115 at 1024 W 119th St.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Firefighters from Pelt’s firehouse at 119th and South Morgan recalled him as a kind-hearted man “who grew up wanting to serve.” He was a registered nurse, a paramedic and had been an instructor at the fire academy, said Lt. David Bernicky, who worked with Pelt.

“He was probably the kindest person on this job,” Bernicky said.

He was also a great firehouse cook.

“I’m holding my belly [thinking about] his cooking,” Bernicky said. “He cooked yesterday. They said he made barbecue chicken, jerk chicken, fried chicken, cornbread. ... He was a hell of a cook.”

The injured firefighter was Pelt’s lieutenant, who went in to help pull him from the blaze. He had minor injuries, Langford said. Another firefighter was treated for high blood pressure, Langford said.

Two adults and two children were displaced in the house fire. Officials have not yet determined the cause of the fire.

Purple bunting was hung at Engine Co. 75 where firefighter Jermaine Pelt was stationed.

Purple bunting was hung at Engine Co. 75 where firefighter Jermaine Pelt was stationed.

Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Contributing: Sophie Sherry and Mohammad Samra

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