Schaumburg father, son honored for heroics 16 years apart
Even among a highly distinguished group of lifesaving heroes, Schaumburg father and son Tom and Tyler Fredrickson are a rarity.
Tyler, 15, recently learned that he and three friends from Schaumburg will receive the Carnegie Medal for saving a Niles police commander and his 10-year-old son from drowning on the Vermilion River near Oglesby, Illinois, in June 2013.
Tyler was not yet born when his father received the same honor for his rescue of 5-year-old Alberto Lara from the frigid Fox River near Algonquin in February 1997.
Walter F. Rutkowski, president and secretary of the 110-year-old Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, said while it isn't uncommon for multiple family members to be recognized for their involvement in the same act of heroism, for a father and son to win the medal for separate acts truly stands out.
"It's just a very rare occurrence," Rutkowski said. "I don't remember that ever happening. My experience goes back 40 years."
Tyler said he'd been aware of his father's heroism and medal long before he found himself in a similar situation last summer.
"I thought it was cool that he would do that," Tyler said.
Tom thought it a big coincidence even for his son and his friends to be nominated for the same award.
"I thought that it was neat that he got nominated, but then he won!" Tom said.
The other Schaumburg boys involved in the rescue with Tyler are Colin Fath, 15; his brother Graham Fath, 12; and Matthew Grammas, 15.
The boys had gone on a rafting trip downstate when they came across Niles police Cmdr. James Elenz and his son, Ryan, in another raft that was caught in the turbulent water at the base of a low-head dam.
Responding to the cries for help from the other raft, Tyler and his friends paddled over, where Elenz handed his son over to their raft.
But then the Schaumburg boys' raft became caught by the current and held against the face of the dam while Elenz's raft was released.
Elenz went downstream to get help, while the boys used their paddles and hands in an attempt to get out of the turbulent water. Water from the dam began to overflow their raft, and two of the paddles were lost.
Two kayakers arrived and threw a line out to the boys, with which they and their raft were pulled to safety.
Ryan Elenz was treated at the scene for mild hypothermia. Colin Fath suffered a cut to his ear but continued rafting down the river with his friends.
Both Tyler and his father said one element common to their rescues was that they ended up being more complicated and harrowing than they first expected.
"You don't think you're going to die," Tyler said of his and his friends' decision to help the Elenzes. "I didn't think it was going to be like that."
Tom Fredrickson's heroics came in February 1997 when he was fishing along the Fox River and saw the little boy fall into the cold water on the opposite bank and quickly lose consciousness.
Tom, who was 31 at the time, thought it would be a simple matter of wading into the water and retrieving Alberto Lara. But he lost his footing and was carried downstream.
Tom began swimming against the current toward the boy, regained his footing and positioned himself in the chest-deep water to catch Alberto as the current carried the boy to him.
He brought the boy to the opposite bank, where he was revived then taken to a hospital.
Tom also was examined at the hospital but quickly recovered from his exposure to the cold water.
Tom received a grant of $3,000, and Tyler and his friends received grants of $5,000 each from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. As young people, the Schaumburg boys also were invited to apply for scholarship aid from the commission when they turn 17.
Tyler is a sophomore at Schaumburg High School, where he plays football, baseball and basketball. His father is part-owner and president of Chicago Air Cargo and All Star Courier & Trucking in Wood Dale.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was established by famous industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in response to acts of heroism that accompanied a mining disaster near Pittsburgh in January 1904.
Since then, the commission has awarded 9,718 medals and $36.4 million in one-time grants, scholarships, death benefits and continuing assistance to recipients.
Each new group of medalists is named quarterly, with the Schaumburg boys among those notified on Sept. 30.
The Fredricksons said their medals were awarded about a year after they each learned they'd been nominated. In neither case do they know who brought their names to the attention of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
Among the several other, related honors both Fredricksons have received for their heroism are letters of commendation from the governor of Illinois -- Tom's from Jim Edgar and Tyler's from Pat Quinn.