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Man thanks cop who rescued him before his van exploded

Peter O’Hagan was lucky his blue-clad guardian angel was nearby when his van caught fire on I-55 as he drove in Chicago.

As O’Hagan tried to remove his welding gear from the burning van, Chicago Police Officer Claudio Salgado dashed up and pulled the Oak Lawn man away seconds before the vehicle exploded.

On Sunday, the two men exchanged handshakes — then hugs — at the Central District station where Salgado works as O’Hagan thanked the veteran officer for rescuing him last Tuesday.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be today. He caught ahold of me and dragged me off,” said O’Hagan, still wearing bandages on four fingers he burned on his left hand and a wrap around his sprained right wrist.

His wife, Maureen O’Hagan, said she’s convinced the 39-year-old cop saved her husband’s life.

“I’m eternally grateful to Officer Salgado,” said O’Hagan’s wife, Maureen. “He’s our guardian angel.”

A uniformed Salgado was driving to the station last Tuesday when he saw smoke pouring from a van parked along I-55 near the ramp to I-94.

He stopped his car, then climbed an embankment and jumped a fence to reach the burning van.

When he arrived, O’Hagan was leaning in the side door of the van, trying to pull his tools and welding equipment from the van, said Salgado, adding the sight of oxygen tanks spurred him to act quickly.

“I thought: carrying oxygen tanks, nothing good is gonna happen from that,” he recalled.

Salgado grabbed the 61-year-old O’Hagan and led him away from the van, then pulled him over a concrete barrier wall to safety.

“In a matters of seconds, the van exploded,” said Salgado, who with O’Hagan was treated for smoke inhalation following the rescue.

On Sunday, Salgado downplayed his actions.

“It’s part of the job. It’s my duty,” he said simply.

Salgado, though, said he knew he had to do his best to get O’Hagan away safely from the burning van.

“I can’t live with my conscience if he dies and I don’t do anything,” Salgado said.

The four-year department veteran will be nominated for a lifesaving award, officials said Sunday.

He received that award last year for preventing a person with Alzheimer’s disease from jumping into Lake Michigan, said his boss, Capt. Joseph Vaclavik.

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