CFD lieutenant dies battling high-rise blaze on Lake Shore Drive, 2nd firefighter to die in line of duty this week

Lt. Jan Tchoryk was taken to the hospital in “very critical” condition and later died. On Tuesday, firefighter Jermaine Pelt died battling a house fire on the South Side.

SHARE CFD lieutenant dies battling high-rise blaze on Lake Shore Drive, 2nd firefighter to die in line of duty this week
Firefighters respond to a building that is on fire in the 1200 block or North DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. A 27th floor unit caught fire, killing Lt. Jan Tchoryk, who was a member of the fire department for 26 years, in the staircase of the building as he responded to the fire, according to Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt.

Firefighters at the scene of a high-rise fire in the 1200 block or North Lake Shore Drive on Wednesday morning.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A Chicago Fire Department lieutenant died battling an extra-alarm blaze in a high-rise building on Wednesday morning near the Gold Coast neighborhood — the second firefighter to die in the line of duty this week.

“Right now, I have two funerals to prepare for, two grieving families and a huge department that is broken, including the command staff,” CFD Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt told reporters a little later at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, standing beside Nance-Holt, called the back-to-back tragedies “unprecedented.”

Lt. Jan Tchoryk collapsed in an 11th-floor stairwell while making his way to a fire on the 27th floor of an apartment building in the 1200 block of North Lake Shore Drive, according to Chicago fire officials. A mayday went out about 8 a.m. and crews immediately began administering CPR, Nance-Holt said.

Tchoryk was taken to the hospital in “very critical” condition and later succumbed to his injuries. He was a member of the department for 26 years.

Lt. Jan Tchoryk

Lt. Jan Tchoryk

CHI311

Tchoryk was an outdoorsman and a Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm, Nance-Holt said. Tchoryk had a big family that included a son who recently joined the Chicago Police Department.

A day earlier, firefighter Jermaine Pelt, 49, died while responding to a house fire on the South Side.

JermainePelt.jpg

Jermaine Pelt

Chicago Fire Department

Pelt, a 17-year veteran of the department, became separated from another firefighter with whom he had been manning a hose after the two were ordered to evacuate a West Pullman home that was going up in flames.

Firefighters went back inside and quickly found Pelt, who was rushed to Christ Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“I would call him a hero. He’s my hero,” Pelt’s father, John Pelt, told the Sun-Times.

John Pelt steered his son to become a firefighter rather than a police officer because “the police get shot at.”

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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

He 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.

Pelt 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.

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

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Nance-Holt, who knew Pelt personally, cautioned against drawing any conclusions from two tragedies in as many days. She said she did not want to “Monday-morning quarterback.”

“We train every day to do our very best. ... You can’t figure out what’s going to happen at a fire,” she said.

Three other firefighters and two civilians were also injured. The firefighters were listed in fair to serious condition while the civilians were reported to be in good condition.

“It is unprecedented to lose two firefighters in back-to-back days, in different circumstances, but each of them responding to a call to serve and responding to the aid of others,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot pleaded with people not to speculate on the cause of Tchoryk’s death out of respect for the family.

Lightfoot said she spoke with the Tchoryk family on Wednesday and met their son Dylan at his recent police graduation ceremony.

“Our men and women who are first responders in this city are heroic,” Lightfoot said. “They are brave, they every single day put their lives on the line for us.”

Smoke billows from a building that is on fire in the 1200 block or North DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. A 27th floor unit caught fire, killing Lt. Jan Tchoryk, who was a member of the fire department for 26 years, in the staircase of the building as he responded to the fire, according to Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt.

Smoke billows from a building in the 1200 block or North Lake Shore Drive. Three other firefighters and two civilians were injured.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford estimated 200 firefighters were called to the scene. Firefighters had to climb 26 flights of stairs to get to a staging area where crews were being rotated to fight the blaze. Crews lost elevator access because of the water being used.

“It’s quite a problem,” Langford said of the fatigue factor that accompanies hauling hundreds of pounds of hose up the stairs.

Nance-Holt said the building did not have sprinklers. The blaze was a “wind-driven fire,” but only impacted one unit, according to Nance-Holt.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the Streeterville nieghborhood, Wednesday, April 5, 2023, after a 27th floor unit caught fire, killing Lt. Jan Tchoryk, who was a member of the fire department for 26 years, in the staircase of the building as he responded to the fire, according to Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks Wednesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital about the death of Chicago Fire Lt. Jan Tchoryk.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A woman who lives on the 28th floor, one floor above the fire, said she initially was told to stay in place. Then another group of firefighters came and helped her evacuate down the stairs of the building around 7:30 a.m. She wore pajamas as she waited to be allowed back in the building.

Mike Lazar, who lives on the fifth floor of the building, said he woke up around 7:15 a.m. to the sound of fire alarms. He initially stayed in his unit, but said he left the building around 8 a.m. after a firefighter knocked on his door and told him he should “probably leave.”

After he left the building, Lazar said he was “gathering info with neighbors on the street,” and he remained in the area around the building.

Another building resident, Denise Kozloff, said she stayed in her unit for a few hours, ultimately leaving to walk her dog around noon. Kozloff said she could smell the smoke in her 21st-floor unit and added that her dog was “hyperventilating” from stress.

“I was scared,” Kozloff said. “But I believed everything was gonna be OK.”

Purple bunting hangs outside Lt. Jan Tchoryk’s fire station at Division and Larrabee streets,

Purple bunting hangs outside Lt. Jan Tchoryk’s fire station at Division and Larrabee streets,

Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Some residents who did not evacuate could be seen on their balconies as crews battled the blaze.

Kelly Glynn, who lives on the 19th floor, said that around 6:50 a.m., she smelled smoke in her apartment. She initially stayed in her unit but left before noon.

The fire department was “very informative” and updated residents over the PA system every 10 minutes or so, Glynn said.

Kozloff called the response from firefighters and police “amazing,” and she thanked each first responder she saw on the street for their work.

Nick Schafer, who lives in a different building in the area, was walking his dog when he saw the fire trucks. “We thought it was dying down like eight times but then it started up again,” Schafer said.

Firefighters stand outside a building that is on fire in the 1200 block of North DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. A 27th floor unit caught fire, killing Lt. Jan Tchoryk, who was a member of the fire department for 26 years, in the staircase of the building as he responded to the fire, according to Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt.

A fire in a 27th-floor apartment unit Wednesday led to the death of Lt. Jan Tchoryk, a department veteran with 26 years on the job.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Contributing: Mohammad Samra

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