By Craig Sterrett and Amy Flanery
OTTAWA, Ill — A grandmother and police officer were receiving credit this weekend for saving two children trapped in house fire Saturday morning in Ottawa.
Ottawa police who arrived first at a two-story house fire rescued two children and a woman from the front porch roof Saturday morning at 1803 Guion Street, a home rented by Armando and Ashley Quintanilla. Armando was not at home at the time of the fire.
Al Hite, a member of Ottawa Police Department for 161/2 years, climbed onto a railing around the first-story porch, shimmied up a support post as well as he could and reached up and lowered two children, one at a time, to fellow officers.
As smoke from the fire in the first-floor front living room was surrounding the woman still standing on the porch, the police had the woman — grandmother Lisa Alvarez — lie on her stomach, scoot so her waist was at the edge of the roof and dangle her legs downward. Hite recounted that four Ottawa officers and a La Salle County deputy who came to the scene helped lower her down to the ground.
In all, four children and two adults escaped from the fire in the old brick home.
"They were pretty sooted up," Hite said. He said some were coughing.
Another adult was standing outside the home when first responders arrived, and two children were inside a van staying warm. Hite said one officer rushed four of the fire victims to OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Ottawa, and he drove two adults to the Ottawa hospital.
Capt. Brian Dose said six people were injured in the incident, none of them firefighters. Ottawa fire chief Jeff Newbury said the call came in at about 7:45 a.m., and Dose said the caller reported people were trapped in the fire.
The most serious injuries are those to Lisa Alvarez, 51, grandmother of the two children who were rescued off the roof. Armando Quintanilla said his mother was trapped upstairs along with two children, Giovanni, 3, and Cheyenne, 9, and eventually found the 3-year-old boy hiding in a walk-in closet. Armando said his mother told him she could hear but not see Giovanni and when she reached for him instinctively grabbed him by the hair and dragged him out of the closet toward a front window.
Armando said she felt the window, and it was scorching hot but she pushed it open anyway and got the kids out of the smoke-filled house onto the similarly-smoky porch.
Armando said Lisa Alvarez is in a Rockford hospital, is sedated and is on a breathing apparatus as doctors in Rockford try to clear up her lungs. He said both of her eyes are swollen shut, and they'll learn more about lung damage in a couple of days. The 9-year-old girl is out of the hospital but has burns on her hands, Armando said. The children are heading to school today, he said.
"From what I am told," Fernando's wife, Deianira, wrote in an email, "she woke up to the fire detector going off and woke up her daughter-in-law Ashley and told her to grab the kids and go."
Armando said his wife grabbed two of the children and got them out of the house and into the van so they couldn't re-enter the house. She thought Lisa had the two other children, but when she returned to the front of the house she heard Lisa yelling for the children and still inside the house. Armando said his wife could not enter the house because the front door was engulfed in flame.
"If it weren't for her, those children would not of been here today," Deianira wrote in an e-mail.
Fernando said he has left a voicemail with officer Hite to thank him for helping his mother and the two children get off of the roof.
"If it wasn't for him, they would never have gotten off the roof," Armando said.
Armando said their dog, a pit bull, was found passed out in the house by firefighters. He said a veterinarian is treating the dog for smoke inhalation but thinks it will be OK.
Newbury said police were helping the people down from the wraparound porch roof when firefighters arrived. Firefighters propped a ladder up to the porch roof in case more people were inside, while other firefighters stretched hoses to the house and gained entry through the front door.
Newbury said it took about 20 minutes to get the fire under control.
"All I can say is it looks like it originated in the living room," Newbury said after taking photos and checking on damage inside. As of 9:15 a.m., he was waiting for a state fire marshal to arrive to help determine the cause of the fire. He said it appeared to be accidental in nature.
He estimated damage to the house at $20,000 and the contents at $10,000. He said fire damaged the first floor and there is smoke damage throughout.
Dose said 17 firefighters responded to the scene with two fire engines and two command vehicles. Two ambulances also responded.
Sarah Stasik of the American Red Cross' Illinois Valley chapter said the Red Cross also has given some assistance in the form of hotel lodging and clothing as well as food vouchers.
Armando said the family has lost most of its possessions. Armando said he has lived in the Ottawa area eight years and has worked for two years at the WSI warehouse in Ottawa, and Lisa Alvarez has lived with them about six months.
Copyright 2012 News Tribune, La Salle, Illinois
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