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Vickroy: Firefighting hero credits Oak Lawn training

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:07AM



It was around dinnertime on an August evening in 2011 when Chicago firefighter Larrence McCormack went from ordinary citizen to hero, even if he bristles at the attention.

When McCormack re-entered a burning building to search for a lost colleague, he says he was simply doing what he was trained to do. Dragging the unconscious colleague onto a landing and assisting him down the stairs so that paramedics could revive and transport him to the hospital, McCormack says, was what any firefighter would do.

“There are 5,000 other firefighters in Chicago all doing the same kind of work I do,” he said. “I’m certainly not unique.”

The city of Chicago and the national group Fire Engineering see things differently. In April, PennWell Corp. and Fire Engineering awarded McCormack the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award for bravery. He also received a $35,000 check from the Fire Engineering Courage and Valor Foundation.

Earlier this month, McCormack received the Carter Harrison Award, the Chicago Fire Department’s highest honor.

McCormack, who lives in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, is quick to deflect the attention by acknowledging his peers and his training.

“My training had everything to do with that day,” he said, crediting his mentors at the Oak Lawn Fire Department where he began his career in 1996. “When I went into that building that day, those guys were with me.”

On that summer night, Squad 5 was responding to a fire at a 11/2-story frame house on South Justine Avenue in Chicago’s Englewood community. McCormack had been assigned to the rear of the building and was checking out the upper floor when conditions worsened.

“We weren’t up there very long when the order came to evacuate,” he said.

Capt. Tom Ruane, of Engine Co. 54, was believed to be the last person out of the building.

“He basically cartwheeled down the stairs,” McCormack said.

But in the confusion and chaos, firefighter Gerald Carter lost contact with the hoseline and became lost. McCormack, firefighter Jeremy Kiam, of Engine Co. 54, and Lt. Corey Hojek, of Squad 5, immediately turned to help.

McCormack was the first one to re-enter the building. He was able to “key in” on the shriek coming from Carter’s activated PASS alarm. He found the fallen firefighter unconscious and barely breathing. He dragged him to a landing, and he and Hojek helped get him down the stairs.

Fortunately, Carter survived and is back on the job.

“When he came back (to work), he wanted to be on the nozzle,” McCormack said. “That’s the first guy in, the one closest to the fire. I thought that was extraordinary.”

Just as extraordinary is the fact that hours after McCormack rescued Carter, he and another colleague rescued a handicapped man in a separate fire.

McCormack, 42, grew up in Oak Lawn. His mom, Sheryn, still lives there. He attended St. Gerald School in Oak Lawn and St. Laurence High School in Burbank. His father, Robert McCormack, was an Oak Lawn police officer. His dad’s friend, Tom Shervino, a retired Oak Lawn fire chief, was a big influence on his career choice.

“As a kid I remember him coming in and giving fire prevention speeches,” McCormack said. “I always looked up to him.”

In 1996, McCormack got the opportunity to first train and later work with him.

McCormack worked for the Oak Lawn department for eight years, all the while craving the action of a big city squad. He set his sights on working for Chicago. To boost his chances and gain additional experience, McCormack took a job with the New York City Fire Department for two years. Then an opening in Chicago brought him back.

He now works out of the Englewood station.

“There’s a lot going on, from your average ambulance call to buildings on fire,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy most, that every day is different. You never know what’s going to come your way. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me fresh.”

Where does the bravery come from? What makes a person able to override natural instinct and run into a burning building?

“I don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “I guess it’s just a sense of duty. We were sworn to do a job and to do it to the best of our ability.”

When he’s on a call, he said he tries to focus on the task at hand. He relies heavily on the training he received through a program called “Saving Our Own,” which was developed and taught by several South Side firefighters, including John Hojek and Ray Hoff and Bob Hoff.

PennWell CEO Robert Biolchini said, as he presented McCormack the FDIC award, “Firefighter McCormack’s actions reflect on the fire service’s true values. So today we recognize him individually, but in a greater sense his actions are a mirror of the outstanding actions all of you are facing and performing each day when you are called.”

McCormack and his wife, Jill, have three children: Madilyn, 4; Kiersten, 2; and Jack, 5 months.

Unlike many of his peers, McCormack said he is not a decent cook.

“I’m Irish; we throw everything into a big pot and boil it,” he said.

What he does like to do in his free time is swim, bike and run. He’s participated in marathons and triathlons.

“New York was an awesome experience but in Chicago the quality of life is a million times better. I’ve got my family and friends,” he said. “I can’t tell you how blessed I am to be part of the Chicago Fire Department.”



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