It took a minute for the man standing on the front porch of the West Pullman home to realize what was going on when his neighbors started yelling to him that his house was burning.
"I'm telling him, man, your house is on fire!" said Bernard Jones, 52, who lives near the home in the 11600 block of South Michigan where eight people, including a two firefighters and a police officer, were injured Tuesday evening.
The man opened the front door as flames leapt from the side of the house toward the second floor, Jones said.
"We look up," Jones said. "There's kids in the window."
A pair of police officers in the area had spotted the burning home, too, and had called it in on their radios about 6 p.m.
Seeing two boys in the upstairs windows, the officers shouted instructions to break the windows and jump into their arms, Police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said.
It was a team effort, with Jones and other people nearby helping direct the boys, who are 15 and 8 years old, to a side window. The officers and neighbors then prepared to catch the boys and urged them to jump.
"The older one was a little hesitant and we were like, 'Man, you got to let it go,' so he went and jumped," Jones said. "The younger one was like, 'Hey I'm coming.'"
One of the officers sustained a minor injury catching one of the boys, police said.
The group of neighbors and police officers then tried to run upstairs to rescue a man trapped inside but were blocked by thick smoke, Jones said.
Fire crews arrived soon after and found a police officer attempting to force her way inside the building to reach whoever was trapped inside, Deputy Chicago Fire Cmsr. John McNicholas said.
"The police officer did a nice job, trying to do everything she could," McNicholas said.
Seeing people fleeing the building and hearing reports of people trapped, firefighters called an Emergency Medical Services Plan 1 for the fire, sending at least six ambulances to the scene.
With a man still trapped on the second floor, firefighters swiftly made entry.
"They didn't hesitate," Jones said. "They went straight on upstairs."
Firefighters found heavy smoke and fire in the home, and a firefighter attempting to reach the second floor was pushed back by the heat of the fire, causing him to fall down the stairs, McNicholas said.
The trapped man was rescued from the rear of the second floor, McNicholas said.
The man, who appeared to be in his late 50s, was alert but breathing heavily as he walked toward the ambulance, Jones said. "He was up there at least 10 minutes in all that heavy smoke," Jones said of the man, who was believed to be the most seriously injured of everyone hurt in the fire.
The man was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Advocate Trinity Hospital, officials said. Four other people injured in the fire were taken in good-to-fair condition to Roseland Community Hospital, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.
The firefighter who fell and another injured firefighter were both taken to local hospitals as well. Neither firefighter's injuries were believed to be life-threatening.
The injured police officer was taken to Metro South Medical Center in Blue Island in good condition, Langford said.
The fire was declared under control just before 7 p.m. The cause remains under investigation.
Jones said he was glad to help because of a fire at his home about 20 years ago that burned his niece.
"To this day she's got a lot of things wrong with her 'cause of that smoke," Jones said. "I was not gonna let that happen to them.
"I'm just glad the kids are alright," Jones said.
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