Ten hours after an ice- and snow-covered awning collapsed, pinning a Schiller Park woman under its weight, firefighters used an air bag system to free her in a rescue caught on camera late Tuesday.
Although she was injured and stuck for 10 hours, the actual rescue took just 10 minutes once Schiller Park police and firefighters arrived, said Fire Chief Mike Cesaretti.
“It was pretty quick. The Fire Department worked with the Police Department and with the extra hands, the police officers started clearing that ice and that snow right away so the firefighter-paramedics could go through the house and out the back door to actually get to the patient, to her upper body, and were able to speak with her and start stabilizing her,” Cesaretti said Wednesday morning. “The whole thing took about 10 minutes. She was injured and obviously very cold.”
The awning over a rear door of the home in the 4400 block of Grace Street fell about noon Monday, pinning the woman’s legs, according to Schiller Park Firefighters Local 5230, a union representing members of the Schiller Park Fire Department. A family member arrived home about 10:15 p.m., found her trapped and called for emergency crews to help, Cesaretti said.
“That’s why it’s so amazing she was doing so well. It was a large awning, about 15 to 20 feet long that covered a good portion of the back of the house,” he said.
The woman, who is in her 50s, was alert and speaking and was rushed to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital for treatment where her condition was stabilized, Cesaretti said. She was expected to survive.
“The guys did a phenomenal job,” he said.
The accident was the most recent structural collapse from an atypical amount of snow in the Chicago area so far this winter. Within Chicago city limits, fire officials estimate they’ve responded to as many as 30 similar cases of structural damage in approximately one month since seemingly relentless snowstorms coated buildings with a total of about 40 inches of snow — more than the 36 inches the area averages in a normal year, according to the National Weather Service.
A man recently died from injuries he suffered in a nearly identical situation in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood when an awning he was standing underneath came crashing down on the 54-year-old.
It was the first structural collapse in Schiller Park so far this year, Cesaretti said.
“Great job by all of our Local 5230 members and Schiller Park Police Officers last night,” the union said in the Facebook post. “We hope the resident makes a full and healthy recovery and please be careful and watch out for any heavy snow and ice above you!”
After weeks of high temperatures in the teens or single digits, often accompanied by wind chill values below zero, the comparably warmer temperatures in the Chicago area Monday likely lessened the woman’s potential injuries. The daytime high temperature under sunny skies was in the 40s, the weather service said. On Wednesday the agency warned of the potential for falling ice as warm weather causes snow to melt during the day and then as temperatures dip overnight, that water is likely to freeze again.
“Continue to keep an eye out for falling ice this week with the return of milder temperatures,” the weather service said in a post on its website.
Cesaretti said after crews removed as much snow and ice from the awning as they could by hand, they placed struts for stability and setup an air bag system to lift the awning and free the woman, pulling her back into the house once the awning was lifted enough.
Cesaretti, who has been with the department for 24 years, officially took the reins as fire chief the same day as the rescue. He switched to a new schedule for the promotion but typically would have been working at the time the call came in.
“I went to days that day and it happened that night,” he said. “I would’ve liked to have been out there with them but what they did, it was all them, coming together to save a life.”
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