Two Die in Chicago High-Rise Fire Saving Woman

Jan. 23--The two men who died in a South Shore high-rise fire had rescued an elderly woman on the seventh floor and had returned to the burning apartment with fire extinguishers when they apparently were overcome by smoke, officials said today.

Jameel Johnson, 36, and his co-worker, John Fasula, 50, were doing contract work for a cable company when the fire broke out on the seventh floor of the 16-story building in the 6700 block of South Shore Drive Tuesday morning. The two heard an 81-year-old woman screaming for help and placed her inside an elevator and pressed a button to take her to the first floor, according to police and David A. Fields Jr., Johnson's cousin.

Fasula and Johnson returned to her apartment with fire extinguishers, police said. They were later found by firefighters, collapsed on the floor and were in full cardiac arrest, according to police and fire officials.

The woman collapsed on the floor of the lobby after the elevator doors opened, but was revived by paramedics and taken to the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she was listed in critical condition from smoke inhalation, according to police.

"He died a hero," Fields said in a telephone interview. "They died saving a woman's life."

Johnson, the father of two girls, was working as a private contractor for a cable company, his family said. He did not like being inside high-rise buildings, but the company could not find a replacement, relatives said.

"He went with the understanding that maybe it was just a service call and he could be in and out," Fields said. "He didn't want to be in the high-rise building, that was his whole thing. He didn't want to be there."

Relatives described Johnson, an Englewood native, as a fun-loving man who did whatever he could to take care of his fiance and two children, ages 14 and 3. Johnson had ventured into different careers over the years, but returned to the cable business about a year ago.

"He was a good father who was just trying to make sure his kids had the best," Fields said.

He had been with his fiance for 15 years and the family lives in Gary, Ind., Fields said. His youngest daughter still doesn't understand what happened, relatives said.

"She's still looking for her father to come home," said Johnson's aunt, Rosemary Cohns. "That's the hardest part."

Relatives of Fasula said they were not surprised to hear he risked his life for someone else.

"That's how my brother-in-law was," said Michelle Kozicki, 65, Fasula's sister-in-law. "There's never going to be another one like my brother-in-law Johnny. There's not a bad bone in his body."

Fasula was a maintenance manager for the CTA, spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said. He started working for the transit agency in 1983.

Fasula's family knew he was at the apartment building for a "side job," though she wasn't sure what the work entailed. Kozicki said it was common for Fasula, who had been married for nearly 40 years, to work jobs outside his day job at the CTA.

"He didn't like to sit still," she said.

He went out of his way to help his father before he died in 2009. He was with him "every step of the way," Kozicki said. For example, Fasula took time off of work to drive his father to doctor's appointments.

Fire officials have said the fire apparently started in a bedroom on the seventh floor. Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the cause is undetermined pending further analysis of electrical information. It does not appear suspicious, he added.

"In short, it generally means we have to have some items looked at," Langford said of the analysis.

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