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January 17, 2003

Disabled residents rescued from fire

From: Chicago Daily Southtown, IL - 17 Jan 2003

By Jennifer Martikean
Staff writer
Two people with disabilities were rescued from a fire in a Calumet Park apartment building Thursday.

"When we got here about 1 p.m., there was heavy smoke and two handicapped people — a man in a wheelchair and a deaf woman — who needed help to get out," Calumet Park Fire Chief Tom Battistella said.

Blue Island firefighters rescued the deaf woman from an upstairs apartment, Battistella said. And Calumet Park firefighters helped Henry Johnson, who uses a wheelchair since undergoing heart surgery, escape his first-floor apartment.

No one was seriously injured.

Johnson said he noticed smoke coming from the walls of his apartment and was getting ready to call the fire department when firefighters arrived at his front door to tell him to evacuate.

"It was really smoky, but I didn't see the fire," he said. "I just couldn't ascertain where it was coming from."

The fire was accidental and started in the walls of the eight-unit apartment building in the 12600 block of Lincoln Avenue, Battistella said. Because wall fires can spread quickly, Calumet Park called a second alarm and fire departments from Blue Island, Crestwood, Dixmoor, Dolton, Merrionette Park, Midlothian, Oak Forest, Palos Heights, Posen and Riverdale assisted.

Johnson said he was checked out by paramedics and was sitting outside in the cold when a neighbor, Dotti Zilanis, invited him inside her home.

A few hours after the fire, he was still sitting in Zilanis' house watching crews board up the apartment building across the street.

"I didn't meet her before this, but she has been very neighborly," Johnson said. "I would like to have 1,000 people around who are like her. She didn't know me from Adam, but she thought I was cold and invited me in."

Zilanis also invited other people from the apartment building into her house until their relatives arrived.

"It doesn't matter if you know them or not or if you like them or not, if someone needs help, you help them," Zilanis said.

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were helping Johnson and other residents find temporary housing until their apartments could be fixed.

Jennifer Martikean may be reached at or (708) 633-5962.

© 2003 Chicago Daily Southtown