Chicago cop saves 5 in fire
By Stefano Esposito
Chicago Police Officer Michael O'Connor saw the belching smoke, the flames and the apartment building's windows cracking and shattering onto the sidewalk.
And he heard the screams of neighbors telling the people inside to get out. But O'Connor jumped into the smoky blackness anyway.
Only later would he say to himself: "I'm a cop, not a fireman. What am I doing in here?"
The answer: to rescue Dominique Johnson, her three boys -- Quintin, 2, Jalen, 8, and Brandon, 10 -- and Johnson's boyfriend from a burning South Side apartment Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, a slightly groggy O'Connor, 29, recalled how he was about to begin his 11 p.m. Tuesday shift when he saw fire devouring the first floor of a two-story apartment building in the 1700 block of West 71st.
Before a dozen or so fire trucks arrived to battle the blaze, O'Connor was there. He ran up to the front porch and kicked at the door.
The door gave way, and O'Connor reached a second door leading to a staircase to the second-floor apartment.
"I was screaming for them to get out," O'Connor said. And then a child, the 8-year-old, came stumbling down the stairs, saying his mom and siblings were also upstairs. O'Connor grabbed the child and pulled him out of the house.
FIRE CHIEF: 'HE DID A NICE JOB'
Then moments later, a panic-stricken mother -- with a toddler in her arms -- came running down the stairs, accompanied by another son, O'Connor said.
O'Connor made sure they were safe, and then, not knowing exactly what he would find, he ran upstairs to the apartment and found the mother's boyfriend, who was trying to put on a pair of pants.
"I said, 'Come on. We've got to go,' " O'Connor recalled.
And everyone escaped unharmed, investigators said.
"He did a nice job, and we'd like to congratulate him," Chicago Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco Jr. said.
The cause of the fire, which all but destroyed the building and reduced much of the vinyl siding to a gray goo, remained under investigation Wednesday, said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford. The fire is believed to have started on the back porch, Langford said.
The city's Department of Human Services was assisting the family.
Like any good police officer, O'Connor was modest and to the point about his split-second decision to enter the burning building.
"I'm glad it worked out," he said.
Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
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