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A second chance makes man who saved girl from fire a hero

Raymond Emory (from left) ErickLauderdale Daniel Cole rescued three people from burning bungalow Humboldt Park early Sunday morning. | Brian

Raymond Emory (from left), Ericka Lauderdale and Daniel Cole rescued three people from a burning bungalow in Humboldt Park early Sunday morning. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2011 3:21PM

Daniel Cole works as an automobile mechanic, but the title hero now fits him, too.

Cole was wrapping up a strut job on a street corner in Humboldt Park just after midnight Sunday when he smelled smoke. Probably a barbecue, he told his friend Ray Emory, also a mechanic, and Ericka Lauderdale, the mother of his daughter, who were helping him.

But it didn’t smell like a barbecue. And there was “black smoke,” Lauderdale said. Three houses away, flames shot from a bungalow at 4246 W. Haddon. The fire department hadn’t yet arrived. And at the side of the house, peering out from a first-floor bedroom window, was a teenage girl, frozen with fear.

It was a heart-thumping moment for Cole, 41. And it was also, as he saw it, a second chance of sorts. On May 28, 2005 — six years earlier, nearly to the day — a basement fire claimed the life of Cole’s 3-year-old nephew, Anthony Lucious Jr. The mechanic had never forgiven himself for not saving the little boy.

That day in 2005, Cole and Emory were leaving a job around 7 a.m. when Emory heard there was a fire nearby. “It’s by your sister’s house,” Cole recalls Emory told him.

They tried to drive around the block to check it out, but the streets were clogged with cars. It wasn’t until Cole got home that he learned it actually was his sister’s house, a two-story building in the 3600 block of West Grenshaw. Everyone else got out safely, but little Anthony locked himself in a closet trying to escape the fire and died from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.

Now, six years later, Cole and Emory looked up at the terrified girl, and they could feel the heat coming from the basement.

“She was afraid to come out,” Cole said Monday. “It was too hot in there. She couldn’t see anything.”

Lauderdale banged on a neighbor’s door for help, and Cole hoisted Emory through the window and into the burning home. The teen jumped out of the window into Cole’s arms.

Emory jumped out, too. His boots were smoking.

With the young woman now safe, Cole hopped a fence into the backyard, where he found the teen’s 77-year-old grandmother, Albertha Bannister, and her 5-year-old great-grandson, Andsemaj Johnson, who had gotten out safely but were on the ground in the yard, reeling from having breathed in smoke.

Cole passed the boy and then the elderly woman over the fence to his friends. The boy was unconscious, “just like a doll in my arms,” said Lauderdale, 38, a nursing assistant. She laid him on the walkway and began doing chest compressions.

“I said, ‘Come on, come on, please,’ and then he raised up real fast, and all this black smoke came up,” Lauderdale said.

The boy appeared shaken but OK. “I was just sitting there, holding him, rocking him,” Lauderdale said.

Soon after, fire crews arrived. Bannister suffered second-degree burns to her face, and her great-grandson suffered smoke inhalation, according to the fire department. Both were treated at Norwegian-American Hospital.

A firefighter also suffered minor injuries when a burning stairwell collapsed, briefly entrapping him. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“He cried a lot that night,” Lauderdale said of Cole. “He always said he should have saved Anthony. I used to tell him, ‘If God tells us to go home, it’s time.’ ”

“He did a good thing,” said Fire Lt. John Doherty.

Getting ready for a family cookout Monday, Cole seemed at peace.

“It’s not going to change” anything regarding Anthony’s death, he said. “But I feel a lot better about it. As long as I’m able to save somebody, it’s OK.”

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