About 14 hours after Lyons police Officer Charles Wright rescued two residents from a smoke-filled apartment building, he sat in his home Monday afternoon and downplayed his death-defying effort.
"We help people; that's what police officers do," said Wright, a 29-year veteran of the department who grew up in Lyons. "It's just routine."
Tenants of the building disagree. And while Wright's may have been the most dramatic example of heroism at the fire in the six-unit apartment building, others joined him during and after the blaze.
It began shortly after midnight when Wright was patrolling near 45th Place and Prescott Avenue in the western suburb. He noticed flames shooting from a basement apartment window and radioed for help. Then he left his car and pounded on the building's windows and a door before arriving at another apartment entrance.
"It was just like: Get them out," Wright said.
He stuck his head in the door, then told Campos to run around the building and try to wake people up, Campos said Monday afternoon. While Campos started shouting and pounding on windows, Wright walked inside and helped a man and young boy escape before the officer became overcome by smoke.
Lyons police officers Rob Zieman, Richard Brown, Jeff Studlow and Jennifer Markowski arrived moments later, followed by firefighters. The four officers stood by a first-floor window and persuaded tenant Mary Jones to break it and lower her toddler daughter to them, Lyons police Cmdr. Brian Kuratko said. Jones followed her daughter out the window.
Although the building was damaged extensively, all tenants survived. Authorities said the fire started in a basement apartment but had not determined the cause.
"I would say we probably all would have been trapped" if it hadn't been for the efforts of Wright, Campos and the other officers, Jones said later Monday. "No one inside knew what was going on."
Gestures of generosity occurred hours later, when Kathy Van Driska, of nearby Countryside, drove to the apartment parking lot, her small car nearly overflowing with four stuffed toy animals. She'd seen TV news reports on the fire and was moved by the plight of the four children who had to leave their homes early Monday morning, Van Driska said.
"It's just a little something for the little kids," added Van Driska, who took the toys to the Lyons Police Department. Kuratko said a local Lions Club also offered to help apartment tenants. "If something like this happened to me," Van Driska said, "I would hope someone would step up and help me out because this is terrible."
The early Monday blaze was the third time Wright, who was raised in Lyons, rescued someone trapped in a building fire. He received a congressional commendation in 1996 after he and two other Lyons officers rescued a 77-year-old visually impaired amputee from his burning home.
In addition, Markowski saved a life exactly three years ago, while working as a Westmont police officer. She and Westmont firefighter Brendan Sullivan leapt into a retention pond to help pull out an elderly couple whose car had plunged into the water.
After his rescue efforts Monday, Wright was treated at a hospital for a few hours, then went home to sleep. In his living room hours later, he said the headache and sore throat from inhaling smoke was nothing compared with the satisfaction of having done what he was meant to do.
"It's a special job, being a police officer," he said. "It takes a lot of heart to put up with some of the things we do. All the guys I worked with, I'm very proud of what they did."