On Oct. 20, fire destroyed a home located at 1145 N. Central Ave. in the Austin community. Max Crawford, age 8, was trapped in a smoky attic bedroom but was rescued by firefighter John O’Brien. Firefighter John O’Brien along with other firefighters from Engine 117 of the 13th Battalion, were successful in rescuing the Crawford family and saving the life of young Max.
In recognition of their bravery, State Rep.-Elect LaShawn Ford, accompanied by aldermen Emma Mitts (37th) and Isaac Carothers (29th) honored O’Brien last Saturday. “We should salute our firefighters for the risks they take daily to save the lives and possessions of people in our community,” Ford said, then introduced Ald. Carothers, who said, “As chairmen of Police and Fire Commission, I am delighted to be here because I know we have the finest fire department in the world. I say it every single month and at every city council meeting that we have. I would be remiss to not recognize First Deputy John Brooks and all the fire personnel staff that are here. This is a great occasion, and I wanted to give my gratitude as well to firefighter O’Brien. We honored him in the city council for this event, and I would just like to remind everybody that the Chicago Fire Department does these kinds of things each and every day. They put their lives on the line for people like Max, and it’s so important that we recognize them for what they do.
“Most of us run the other way from a fire, run the other way from gunshots. They run to those events. I really feel good for the family, and I guarantee you that they understand the value of the Chicago Fire Dept. more then anybody else.”
First Deputy John Brooks took the podium and said he was glad to be back in his old area. “My connection with John [O’Brien]-we started working together in 1998. I was in this area as a battalion chief and just recently was promoted out of this area, so I’m not just here as a brass hat. John was here when Max needed him. That’s what our slogan is: “there when you need us.” This whole community of firefighters has been doing this day in and day out, and I was part of this also, so I’m telling you this from firsthand knowledge. I’m very proud of all of my guys as I call them.”
Christopher Harper, a real estate agent with Ford Desired Realty, has been working closely with the family and came forward to thank everyone for coming out. “A lot times we are not rejoicing; so often in the paper we read about unfortunate things. But thanks to Mr. O’Brien and his family, we really appreciate that. We have Max’s mother, Brenda, and his sisters here today-and just to let you know the struggle is not over, we’re still looking for a place for them to live. All of us can go back home to our houses, but they don’t have housing yet. It’s a big family because Brenda Crawford has her mother as well, so we need at least five bedrooms. It’s been rather stressful, and Brenda Crawford every day is trying to find a place as well.”
The award read: “Presented to John O’Brien, Chicago Fire Department, for your heroic efforts – Max Crawford on October 20, 2006.” Ford noted, “He didn’t do it alone but he was the most heroic.” He also presented an award for the entire battalion, which was accepted by one of firefighters.
O’Brien, a soft-spoken man, said, “I just want to thank everyone-State Rep. Ford, Alderman Carothers, Alderman Mitts, Deputy Brooks, the Crawford family-for showing up today. We really appreciate all the congratulations for the fire department. That night I received a lot of recognition, but I want to stress Engine 96, Engine 117, Tower Ladder 14 and Truck 26 were there that night. Without the efforts of Engine 96 and Engine 117 in putting out the fire and Tower Ladder 14 and Truck 29, the way they ventilated to release the smoke, nobody would have been able to get out from that second floor. I was lucky enough to come across Max, but any one one those guys could have come across him. All those guys did such a great job, and all these awards are great, but we all received the best reward you could possibly get that night and that was saving the life of young Max, and that’s all I want to say.” John’s wife, young son and mother beamed as he embraced Max, who then presented O’Brien with a decorative angel ornament.
Ford said, “We want to continue to build relationships and dispel any myths that the fire department doesn’t care about our community. We want to make sure everyone knows that when they put those suits on, they’re there to save lives, and they take the oath very seriously.”
First Deputy Brooks told AWN, “I’ve been proud of John since 1998 when he first came on. John has been doing the same thing, caring for not only the community but other firefighters. I’m not surprised to see John go above the call and make a rescue like this. I’m not surprised at all.”
Alderman Mitts has been involved with the family since the fire, providing them with money as well as spiritual hope. “It just goes to show you when we as elected officials and everybody work together, you can’t get anything but good out of it. It’s more then just being a politician; it’s got to be people who care about the everyday needs of a human being and that makes a good politician, so thank LaShawn because I was in budget, and he made sure that he called and let me know I had a family in need. After all, we don’t see everything that happens. So we started working together to try to help and assist the family. Just the other day I contributed to the family so they could go shopping at Dominick’s, so they would not be left without the little things during the holidays. And we will not forget them during the Christmas season. We will continue working with them. Any one that wants to help the family can contact my office at 312/744-8019.”