Des Plaines resident Benjy Banuelos received the Youth Hero Award from the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association at the organization's annual Awards Luncheon on Friday, October 26, 2012, at Medinah Banquets, Addison. Banuelos received the award for his actions on Friday, December 23, 2011, when his family's townhouse caught fire in the 1300 block of Fargo Avenue in Des Plaines.
The fire occurred when a can of gasoline was knocked-over on the stairs, causing gas to run down and through the basement steps. The fumes from the gasoline traveled to the water heater's pilot light, which ignited the fumes in a giant flash, causing the rapidly-spreading fire.
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Benjy Banuelos was in the basement with his aunt, grandmother, and baby cousin. After the fire started, he was able to escape the basement via the flame-threatened stairway. In climbing-up the stairs, Banuelos' pants leg caught fire. Once at the top of the steps, he yelled to his family to get out of the house because of the fire. He quickly went outside and performed "Stop-Drop-and-Roll" to extinguish the flames on his clothing. He then called 9-1-1 on a cell phone to report the fire. The call is thought to be the first one reporting the fire, thus summoning the Fire Department. The Fire Department arrived quickly enough to rescue Banuelos' unconscious grandmother and cousin from the basement fire. After weeks in the hospital, both victims went home with no long-term effects from their ordeal. The Illinois Fire Inspectors awarded Banuelos with the Youth Hero Award for putting into practice the safety messages taught by the Fire Department at Banuelos' school, and for staying calm and taking measures which resulted in saving not only his own life, but those of his family members.