Neighbor pulls man from Hoffman Estates apartment fire
A nurse assistant pulled a 62-year-old man from a burning apartment Tuesday night in Hoffman Estates. He's being treated in the burn unit at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
Malgorzata Rostecka, who lives near the apartments in the 2000 block of Hassell Road where the fire occurred, said she and her 8-year-old daughter were out for a walk when they smelled smoke. She sent her daughter to call 911 and saw beyond an open door a man leaning against a wall in his burning apartment.
She told the man to leave the building, but he couldn't move, Rostecka said. She said the man was having difficulty breathing, couldn't walk and already had burns on his face and hands. She could recognize that the skin was peeling from his mouth and nose.
"I'm a nurse assistant -- I cannot leave somebody if somebody is need," she said. "I have to put them first."
She said she helped him out of the burning apartment, as he leaned on her heavily, crying.
"Just hold me. Put your hand on my shoulder and just walk with me," Rostecka recalled telling the man.
Rostecka heard what she described as an explosion in the living room area just as she was getting the man out the door. Hoffman Estates Fire Chief Jeff Jorian said he doesn't know exactly what she heard but that it's common for aerosol cans to explode in such heat.
Firefighters were called to the blaze at the two-story building of the Barrington Lakes Apartments about 7:15 p.m., Hoffman Estates police Sgt. Mark Mueller said. Smoke and flames were billowing out of the first-floor apartment unit, where investigators believe a fire started in the kitchen. The man, who had burns on his face and hands, was transported to St. Alexius Medical Center and later transferred to Loyola.
Officials at Loyola Wednesday said there was no information they could release about the man's condition.
The building was substantially damaged, and the American Red Cross has helped several families find temporary housing, Mueller said.
Hoffman Estates firefighters said the initial damage estimate is $250,000. The building was equipped with an automatic fire alarm which activated, but not a sprinkler system. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Rostecka said she learned later that the man's age and health were not factors in the condition she found him in. He'd had a Fitbit on his wrist and neighbors told her he often worked out and jogged at the complex.
"It's going to stay in my mind probably forever," she said of the rescue, adding that she doesn't consider herself a hero, but is disappointed no one else thought to check whether anyone inside the building might need help before firefighters arrived.
"Everybody grabbed their phones and started recording," Rostecka said. "Nobody had the guts to go in."
She said one person did put their jacket over the injured man, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, as she emerged from the building with him.
Chief Jorian said though this event ended well, it can be dangerous to enter a burning building, and firefighters and paramedics would prefer to have one victim, not two.
"It's one of those things that's up to the individual," he said. "It's a scary and dangerous situation to go into a fire. We're protected by our clothing and we have our training."
• Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop and correspondent Katie Smith contributed.