Fire victim 'came back to save the couple'

  • The mother of a 21-year-old Orland Park man critically injured in a Dec. 18 house fire in Naperville says her son went back into the burning building to try to save the owners, Tom and Jan Lambert, for whom he was working as a caregiver. Allen Belaguas remained unconscious Thursday at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

    The mother of a 21-year-old Orland Park man critically injured in a Dec. 18 house fire in Naperville says her son went back into the burning building to try to save the owners, Tom and Jan Lambert, for whom he was working as a caregiver. Allen Belaguas remained unconscious Thursday at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Courtesy of Sean Burke

 
 
Updated 12/26/2013 5:52 PM

Allen Belaguas had been saving for nursing school, working as an in-home caregiver for several months, but only in the home of Jan and Tom Lambert of Naperville for about a week when it happened.

Fire.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The blaze erupted about 6:50 a.m. Dec. 18 in the Lambert's two-story house on Field Court.

The couple never made it out of the house. Authorities said they may have been victims of a floor collapse that sent the home's second story tumbling into the basement.

Tom, a 57-year-old brain cancer patient who worked as a psychologist and loved to run until his condition worsened, and Jan, a 56-year-old who was blind but known for her sense of humor and strong faith, both died in the fire.

By all accounts, Belaguas, the 21-year-old Orland Park man hired to care for them, did what he could to try to bring the Lamberts out alive.

"They said my son was doing his job," Belaguas' mother, Zeta Pierson, said as Allen underwent surgery Thursday at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. "He went out (of the house) already but he came back to save the couple."

When firefighters got to the scene three minutes after being called, they said two people were escaping the home -- Tom's father, John Lambert, and sister, Patricia Carhoff. Firefighters found and rescued one other occupant whom they described as critically injured -- Belaguas -- before the threat of a floor collapse sent them retreating from the structure.

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Belaguas originally was taken to Edward Hospital in Naperville along with John Lambert and Carhoff. While the two relatives arrived at the hospital in good condition and soon were released, Belaguas was transferred to Loyola for treatment of severe smoke inhalation, authorities said.

There, Belaguas has been unconscious, unable to respond to questions or his name, his mother said Thursday. Burns cover only six inches of his body, but his lungs were damaged from the smoke of the blaze, which firefighters said burned hotter because of oxygen tanks in the home and a ruptured gas line. The fire's cause has not yet been determined.

Pierson said her son's condition has not improved in the eight days since the fire, though she keeps praying it will. On Thursday, doctors decided to operate, creating a hole in the front of his neck that often helps patients breathe when they are on ventilators or the normal pathways are obstructed. She said doctors also were doing a skin graft to help Belaguas' burns heal.

The 21-year-old of Filipino descent had been living with his mother for about the past year and a half, working first at a nursing home and then for BrightStar Care in Naperville.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Belaguas had been hired primarily to care for Jan Lambert, but also helped the woman's husband.

"He had been there only a week. He just started," Belaguas' mother said.

She said her son's plan was to save his earnings to cover tuition for nursing school.

"That was a good start," she said. "That was his plan."

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