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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Pilsen Principal Saved Man From Burning Trailer While Others Watched

The Orozco Community Academy leader is now raising money to get man back on his feet.

Jorge Aguilar, 70, watches his trailer burn after catching fire near 31st and Western. [Efrain Martinez]

PILSEN — After helping save a stranger’s life, Orozco Community Academy’s principal is now raising money to help the man get back on his feet.

Last month, Efrain Martinez helped extinguish flames from Jorge Aguilar’s burning body after Aguilar attempted to salvage equipment from his landscaping business’ trailer that had caught fire.

Now, Martinez has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Aguilar’s family cover medical expenses and replace the equipment lost in the fire. As of Monday afternoon, more than $5,000 had been raised.

“The whole purpose is to help Mr. Aguilar get up on his feet and provide for his family,” Martinez said.

On April 30, Martinez was on his way to work when he drove up to a truck with an attached trailer on fire near 31st Street and Western Avenue, he said. He then saw a man emerge from the burning trailer.

The elementary school principal got out of his car and started to help Aguilar extinguish the flames from his burning body.

“I took his jacket and started hitting him with it,” Martinez said. “I was terrified because in the movies, you do that and it goes away … but it didn’t.”

After finally putting out the fire and calling 911, he walked Aguilar across the street and noticed four people recording the incident on their cellphones.

“These four people potentially could have helped this guy and he could have been less burned,” Martinez said. “I was always taught to treat people as you would like to be treated. I could have never forgiven myself to leave that man there.”

Aguilar, 70, came from Mexico in the late 60s and settled in Pilsen where he started working for a landscaping company before co-founding a landscaping business more than 30 years ago. The morning of the fire, Aguilar had finished his first job and was on the way to another when the fire broke out at around 7:40 a.m., his daughter Trinidad Aguilar-Ruiz said.

Aguilar underwent surgery to receive skin grafts on his right leg and was released Friday after nearly three weeks in the hospital.

“He is in good spirit and is progressing the way they want him to,” Aguilar-Ruiz added.

Jorge Aguilar recovering following skin graft surgery. (Provided: Trinidad Aguilar-Ruiz)

Aguilar-Ruiz said Aguilar and the entire family has been moved by the outpouring of support.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity and support from everybody around us,” she said. “My dad is very humbled that so many people are helping him out. He didn’t expect it.”

Aguilar-Ruiz said she was glad that Martinez stopped that morning.

“I know sometimes people stare because they are shell-shocked when something like this happens, but he immediately flew into action for someone he didn’t know,” she said. “We are extremely grateful he was there…He is always going to be a part of our lives from this point on.”

You can help support Aguilar and his family here.