HUMBOLDT PARK — A 4-year-old boy has died and three other children are in critical condition after a Saturday night fire in a West Humboldt Park apartment.
The fire broke out in a garden apartment in the 4000 block of West Potomac Avenue just before midnight, according to fire department deputy district chief Walter Schroeder.
The 4-year-old boy was pronounced dead early Sunday morning, according to fire officials. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office identified him as Axel Cruz.
Two adults and three other children were hospitalized, officials said.
The adults, a 40-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man, are in good condition. The children, boys ages 5, 7 and 11, are in critical condition, Schroeder said. All victims suffered from smoke inhalation, and the surviving children are intubated, according to fire officials.
Neighbors told Block Club they believe the children were all siblings.
Police with the city’s arson and bomb squad were investigating the scene Sunday morning.
Schroeder said firefighters arrived at 4032 W. Potomac Ave. and found the two adults outside, with heavy smoke emanating from the bottom floor of the three-flat.
“[The firefighters] were told that the children were inside,” Schroeder said. “They made an immediate, aggressive entry to get the kids out. They experienced heavy fire in the basement. They went in there, and they rescued all four kids.”
Crews entered from the side of the building and broke basement windows to help remove the children from the apartment, Schroeder said. All four kids were in full cardiac arrest, Schroeder said.
Firefighters then performed CPR on all four on the parkway lawn outside the apartment building, splitting up the crew to have a portion work on the children while the others snuffed out the blaze, Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the fire was quickly stopped after the children were pulled out of the building.
“It was fast. Our guys are like surgeons. They got this down within 10 minutes once everybody was out,” he said.
The fire was contained to the bottom floor of the building, fire officials said. The basement apartment was badly damaged, while the two upstairs apartments experienced minor smoke damage. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.
Schroeder said the building did have a smoke alarm, which he said was going off when he arrived on scene, although he was not sure if it was located in the basement apartment. He said a door in the back of the apartment was the only exit from the basement, other than the front door of the building, located on the above floor.
Fire department officials have routinely emphasized the need for working smoke detectors and often distribute the devices on residential blocks after a fire, as they did Sunday on the Potomac Avenue block.
“It’s not just a smoke detector that’s needed. You also should have a second means of egress,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the chief had spoken with the firefighters involved with the rescue earlier Sunday morning. He said they were in decent spirits, considering the situation.
“The chief last night was very upset for obvious reasons. You had four pediatric patients, laying on the ground, with guys doing CPR on them,” he said. “That’s not something that’s normal.”
Firefighters and police were on scene Sunday, canvassing the quiet block on the border of the Humboldt Park and Austin neighborhoods. A small memorial for the family, including candles, flowers and a stuffed animal, rested on the fence outside the building.
Ed Ortiz, who lives next door to the victims’ building, said he came outside Sunday night after hearing yelling, screaming and windows breaking. He said the response from firefighters was quick and professional.
“They came in fast,” Ortiz told Block Club. “Then they started bringing the kids out, one at a time. Every kid, they were doing CPR. Every kid was non-responsive.”
The family moved into the apartment about a year ago, Ortiz said. Although he didn’t know them well, he said the children would have playful howling matches with his two dogs. He said no fund has been set up yet, but believed that the Nobel Neighbors community organization was working on something for the family.
Nobel Neighbors couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Neighbor Paula Thomas, who lives down the block from the house, said she watched the kids play on Friday, running down the street to get ice cream.
Ortiz said he’s lived on the block for 30 years, and although there have been shootings and other incidents, he said he’s never seen a fire as impactful as the one Saturday night.
“This is bad,” he said.
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