NUIT Employee Risks Life To Save Neighbor From Skokie Blaze

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

Despite thick smoke, Jean Patrick Policape didn’t have to think twice before crawling into the house to find his neighbor.

“I didn’t know where he was. I had to peer in the front door,” said Policape, who works with Northwestern University Information Technology. “There was thick smoke, no light. The back of the house was in flames, it was hard to see through the really thick, black smoke. Through the glow of the flames I could see a silhouette of his legs, and I just pulled as hard as I could.”

Policape dragged his neighbor out of the Skokie home by the foot. The police arrived soon after and helped him to carry his neighbor onto the front lawn. The fire department arrived minutes later.

Policape estimates the Dec. 26 rescue took less than a minute. But because he pulled his unconscious 54-year-old neighbor from a fire, Policape will receive the Citizen’s Award for Bravery from the Skokie Fire Department, Skokie Deputy Fire Chief Jim Walters said.

“It was a split-second reaction,” said Policape. “I knew I could get to him. I knew there was someone in real bad trouble, and I was the only one there. I was the first on the scene.”

Policape learned of the fire at about 7 p.m. that December night, when his doorbell rang. His wife answered the door and saw the fire in the house across the street.

“There was smoke billowing from the house, and the lady was outside screaming that her husband was inside,” Policape said.

Policape, who has no formal rescue training, reacted immediately, running across the street to help his neighbor. He said he was merely acting on instinct.

“I saw somebody in need, somebody that needs help, and I just reacted,” Policape said.

Walters said Policape’s instincts saved his neighbor’s life.

“When our crews pulled up to the neighborhood, he had already pulled the man out,” Walters said. “Without his intervention the seriousness of the call would have been much worse, probably fatal.”

Policape sustained no injuries from the experience.

“They took my vitals, and my blood pressure was a little high, obviously, but I am fine,” Policape said.

Policape’s neighbors thanked him the next day for his act and informed him of his neighbor’s condition.

“They told me he has been stabilized, but he will probably spend several more months in the hospital,” Policape said.

He was told that almost 50 percent of his neighbor’s body was burned in the fire. The fire department and Loyola Medical Center’s burn unit in Maywood, where the victim was listed in critical condition after the fire, were not able to give more information on the man’s status or identity.

Policape has heard about his neighbor’s condition but has not been given any information about the award he is to receive.

He said he learned of the award in the Chicago Tribune, “but I haven’t heard anything officially,” Policape said. “It’s an honor, but it’s something that I think a lot of people would have done the same thing.”

Walters said Policape will receive the award at a Skokie City Council meeting. A date has not yet been set.

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]