While Fernando Meir was patrolling the parking lot at Stevenson High School on March 7 he saw smoke, went to the home in unincorporated Lake County, dropped on his knees to avoid the smoke and reached family members trying to escape.
The Apple Hill Lane home near Lincolnshire, owned by Jim and Renee McClure, had a raging fire that day as they and three others were trapped on a second-floor porch with no staircase. Renee McClure needed everyone's help since she was unable to move and on a ventilator due to advancing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
While Meir kept talking with first-responders on a cellphone, the firetrucks sped to the scene, providing a dramatic exchange as the fire raced closer to them. During those same moments, another Stevenson employee, Barry Orgeron, also worked to save the family while Dedra Cummins, who lives nearby, was on her knees attempting to save a family dog.
The three rescuers, along with members of the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District firefighters and paramedics who helped the family to safety, were honored Saturday after an emotion-packed presentation that included those frantic calls to 911. The presentation was made at fire station No. 53 in Vernon Hills before the monthly Fire District Board meeting.
Those receiving certificates of honor were Meir, Orgeron and Cummins as well as district firefighters Jason Stockton, Tom Burrs, Matt Bacarrella, Kyle Schrems, John McWilliams, Ryan Shay, Ron Swidler and Scott Rhodes.
Orgeron said his efforts were focused at the front of the home.
"What I did just pales in comparison to what Fern did. He did it all," Orgeron said.
"It is intense," Meir said of the smoke. "And quite scary."
Cummins, the daughter of retired Fire Chief Ted Tarr of the same district, said she was driving along Buffalo Grove Road when she saw the smoke and followed it to the McClure's home. She parked in the middle of the street, ran to the home, told the family's caregiver to go to safety, dropped on her knees and was able to rescue one of three dogs. Two other dogs were found hiding in a room and had died.
"When I got back to my car I just sat there and started crying," Cummins said. "Did I just do that? I couldn't believe I just did that."
Jim McClure, along with his son Kyle McClure, thanked each of the rescuers on Saturday.
The exact cause and costs of the fire were still unavailable. And the home, which is covered by insurance, will be repaired in the next six to nine months, Jim McLure said.
In a separate presentation, Craig Gilsinger, 22 of Antioch, was honored with the station's Spirit Award for his devotion to his profession as a firefighter and paramedic. The award, voted by supervisors on all shifts, honored him for his strong work ethic, teamwork and other values. Gilsinger, who started part time in 2008 through the Explorer's program, was hired full time nearly three years ago.