The Chicago Fire Department’s in-house rescuers are given credit for saving the lives of a group of firefighters who became trapped by a house fire early Thursday evening.
Chicago RIT (Rapid Intervention) teams go to every fire, and are there solely for the purpose of saving firefighters in trouble.
"You know, that’s what this rapid intervention team is for," said Battalion Chief Sean Burke. "It’s for us."
The fire was burning in a home in the 7000 block of South Justine. A group of firefighters were battling the blaze in the attic when the fire flashed quickly, blowing one of them, 52-year-old Capt. Thomas Ruane, to the top of the stairs.
"They had heavy fire in the attic," said Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff. "Conditions deteriorated quickly enough that they had water flowing on the fire, but they couldn’t back out quick enough due to the heavy volume of fire. And they ended up being in a room full of fire."
Firefighter Gerald Carter, with two and a half years on the job, went down in the flames. But rescuers were alerted that he was in danger when his PASS alarm began sending out a shrill warning.
PASS alarms are carried by all personnel, and send their alert when a firefighter stops moving for more than 15 seconds.
"They got caught in a very tight space," said Tom Ryan, President of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2. "There is no such thing as a routine fire. And at times, things can get catastrophic in the blink of an eye."
Ironically, neighbors said the fire was almost undetectable when it first broke out.
"The only thing you could see was flames coming from the top," said Dawn Lewis, who lives next door. "That’s it."
Carter and Ruane, both assigned to Engine 54 at 71st and Parnell, suffered serious burns but are expected to survive.
Two other firefighters were treated for injuries and released. The cause of the fire is under investigation.