By Grace Kuikman
The sun was just about to set on the evening of Apr, 15 when 22nd District Police Officers Michael Wagner and Gary Wendt spotted a plume of black smoke in North Beverly.
“We knew it was a residential area, so we went over there,” Officer Wagner said. “We didn’t hear sirens, and that was not a good thing.”
The call came over the radio just before they arrived at the house at 94th and Oakley where a fire was starting to rage in the garage, which is connected to the house. They were the first on the scene and found the homeowner – a retired Chicago police officer – out front.
“He was frantically waving, saying ‘My wife’s in there!’” Officer Wendt recalled. The homeowner told them that his wife, an MS patient in a wheelchair, was in the house, in the room next to the garage. The officers spotted a car in the garage and knew that an explosion could occur if it caught fire. They had to act quickly. The homeowner ran into the house to rescue and tie up the dog. Officers Wendt and Wagner entered the house and were soon joined by 22nd District Officers Wendy Stanton and Deon Butler. A neighbor also arrived to help.
“The house was filled with smoke,” Officer Wendt recalled. Together, the officers and the civilian neighbor located the woman and rescued her – still in her wheelchair — from the fire. The Chicago Fire Department quickly arrived to put out the blaze.
“We couldn’t have done it without Stanton and Butler,” Officer Wendt said, explaining that the wheelchair was large, very heavy and difficult to maneuver.
Although everyone was safe, the heroic rescue was not without consequence: All four of the 22nd District Police officers were treated for smoke inhalation at nearby hospitals and released with instructions to follow up with their own doctors; the neighbor suffered from smoke inhalation that required intubation; he was transferred to Loyola Hospital and is recovering. The occupants of the house – including the dog – escaped without injury.
It’s not typical for the police to handle fire rescues, but when Officers Wendt and Wagner arrived first on the scene, they knew they needed to act immediately.
“It’s one of those things I never expected to do in my career,” Officer Wagner said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we saved a life that day,” Officer Wendt said. “The flames in the back of the house had to be 20 feet high.”
“I could not be more proud of the actions of the 22nd District officers,” said Commander Sean Joyce. “The response of Officers Wendy Stanton, Deon Butler, Michael Wagner, and Gary Wendt, as well as that of civilian neighbor Gregory Galotta kept an unfortunate occurrence from becoming a tragedy.”
All four officers will be submitted to receive Lifesaving Awards and Mr. Galotta will also be recommended for recognition.
Officers Wagner and Wendt live in the neighborhood. Officer Wagner has been CPD for nine years, and at the 22nd District for one year. Officer Wagner has been CPD for 14 years, most of his career at 22. Officer Stanton has been CPD six years and Officer Butler four years.
All of these heroic officers take great pride in serving with the 22nd District Police. “A lot of us live and work in the neighborhood,” Officer Wagner said, adding that they are always looking out for the community’s welfare, “on and off duty.”