07/18/2007

Chicago cops brave fire to evacuate 50 to 75 residents out of building

CHICAGO — With flames coming from one apartment and residents up and down the nine-story building screaming for help, Chicago Police officers bolted into the Far North Side building Monday, rescuing one severely injured tenant and evacuating some 50 to 75 others.

"It was pretty much the natural reaction to clear the building," said Officer Glen Shirahama, one of several Rogers Park police district officers who arrived at the building at 6807 N. Sheridan before firefighters.

Shirahama, 47, and partner Brendan Dough-erty, 39, both 13-year veterans, quickly tripped the building's smoke alarms, which weren't triggered by the smoke and fire.

Officers headed to the second floor and apartment 210, where the fire started, and found the resident, a 62-year-old woman, lying on the floor near her front door amid the thick smoke, police said.

"She wanted us to save her cat. She said her stove had blown up," Shirahama said. The cat didn't make it.

After he and Dougherty helped the woman to her feet, Shirahama joined officers who were knocking on the doors of other tenants to evacuate the building.

Meantime, Dougherty and a neighbor helped the woman out of the building.

When it was over, five officers -- Kenneth Meerbrey, 44, a 13-year veteran; Steve McNichols, 27, a five-year veteran; Matthew Scanlan, 27, on the force three years; Jeff Pacocha, 32; on the force two years; and Thomas Sebastian, 36, a rookie -- were treated for smoke inhalation at area hospitals and released. The woman officers rescued was being treated for second- and third-degree burns at Loyola University Hospital and Medical Center.

The cause of the blaze, which started just before midnight Monday, remains under investigation.

VISITED BUILDING EARLIER

Several hours before the blaze, officers had been to the woman's apartment after receiving a call that the woman had jumped through a stairwell window and cut herself, according to Scanlan. He said the officers initially spoke to the woman through her door because she wouldn't let them in. She later cracked the door open to prove she was not injured.

Later Tuesday, the men were referred to as heroes, as fire officials put in a thank-you call to bosses at the Rogers Park District.

"These are all excellent officers," Police Lt. Mark Amati said of his fellow Rogers Park District officers. "They didn't have to go into the burning building, but they did, and absolutely, they are heroes."

Dougherty shrugged off the hero title later Tuesday, saying: "This is my job. There's no way I would allow anybody to stay in the building and die."

Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

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