2 Mundelein cops honored for rescuing man injured in house explosion

  • Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens, center, stands with award-winning Mundelein police officers Kathleen Smith and Rick Witt.

    Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens, center, stands with award-winning Mundelein police officers Kathleen Smith and Rick Witt. Courtesy of Mundelein police

  • Mundelein police officer Rick Witt

    Mundelein police officer Rick Witt

  • Mundelein police officer Kathleen Smith

    Mundelein police officer Kathleen Smith

  • Two Mundelein police officers have been honored for rescuing a man who was critically injured when his house exploded in January 2015.

    Two Mundelein police officers have been honored for rescuing a man who was critically injured when his house exploded in January 2015. Courtesy ABC 7 Chicago, 2015

 
 
Updated 6/17/2016 5:34 PM

Two Mundelein police officers have been honored by a state law enforcement agency for helping to rescue a man critically injured in a house explosion last year.

Officers Rick Witt and Kathleen Smith jointly received the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police's annual Life Saving Award. Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens, president of the state group, presented the pair with plaques this week.

 

The awards stemmed from the officers' actions Jan. 2, 2015, at a house on the 900 block on Killarney Pass Drive. A 19-year-old resident, Patrick Thomason, caused the destruction after a family argument and was killed, police said.

Witt, a Mundelein Elementary District 75 resource officer temporarily working a traditional patrol shift that day because of winter break, was the first officer on the scene. He knew it wasn't a false alarm before he arrived at the house.

"(There was) a large plume of black smoke in the sky," recalled Witt, a 10-year department veteran.

The house was engulfed in flames when he arrived. Two explosions -- one small, then a larger one -- had caused the damage.

Witt first spoke with a resident who wasn't hurt and then ran toward what was left of the garage, which is where the blasts had originated.

On the way, he spotted resident Philip Thomason Sr. lying unconscious and badly injured on the driveway, atop the wreckage of the garage door. He'd been blown there by the force of the blast.

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Smith recalled someone near Thomason calling for help, possibly a neighbor. She quickly ran over, without any concern for her own safety.

"I didn't even think about it," said Smith, a 19-year department veteran. "Somebody was yelling that somebody needed help, and you just go to him."

Despite being only about 25 feet from the blazing house and near a camper equipped with flammable propane tanks, the officers picked up Thomason and carried him to the street.

"We didn't know what caused the explosion, and we didn't know if there would be another one," Witt said. "So we wanted to get him to safety."

The officers helped load Thomason into an ambulance. Smith recalled climbing inside to help keep Thomason's body still as paramedics treated him.

Thomason was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville and survived.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Witt hasn't spoken with Thomason since the fire. Smith said she crossed paths with Thomason while on patrol once, and he thanked her for saving his life.

Mundelein Public Safety Director Eric Guenther said he is proud of how Witt and Smith acted that day.

"They were willing to put themselves in harm's way to help someone despite their own safety," Guenther said.

Witt was grateful for the award but said his actions that day were "just part of the job."

"I think any other officer arriving on the scene would've done the same thing," he said.

Smith was similarly modest.

"It's something I'm ready to do each day," she said.

Witt received a second, unrelated award this week.

The Illinois Juvenile Officers Assocation named him one of its three Juvenile Officers of the Year for his work at Mundelein schools and in the community. He received the award Friday at a ceremony in Peoria.

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