Two wounded city police officers get top honors for bravery
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter October 8, 2013 3:50PM
Updated: October 8, 2013 9:02PM
When the phone rang at 10:30 p.m. on July 18, 2011, Jeff Friedlieb was afraid to pick it up for fear that something terrible had happened to his son, who had followed his dad into the Chicago Police Department.
“I was sitting at home and I got a call….He says, `Come to the County [Hospital]. I’ve got a bullet in my head,’ ” the elder Friedlieb recalled.
“Most parents would get that call and they’d be in the alley picking up his brains…You have to thank God when you take a bullet in the back of your head and have the audacity to fire back and shoot the guy.”
On Tuesday, the elder Jeff Friedlieb was in the City Council chambers to watch his son and namesake receive the Carter Harrison Award, this year’s highest honor for police bravery, along with his partner, Officer Ruben Del Valle.
Both plainclothes officers were shot while attempting to arrest a man they had observed allegedly engaging in a drug deal in a West Side alley.
During the struggle, the suspect allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired several shots. Del Valle was hit in the arm and head. Friedlieb was shot in the head. The bullet remains lodged behind his left ear.
Somehow, the wounded Friedlieb managed to return fire, striking the fleeing suspect. Charges were subsequently dropped against one suspect, but another is awaiting trial.
“I went down. Luckily, I was still conscious. I was able to fight back and wound the offender,” said the younger Friedlieb, who still suffers sometimes from severe headaches.
“It was pretty much will and training, dedication to the job….You don’t really think about the injury. You think more about catching the offender. Your adrenalin takes over...[Afterwards], you look at life differently. It is a second chance.”
The partners credited their military training with carrying them through on that fateful day.
“I realized my partner was shot. I was shot. The first thing on my mind was, `Okay, we’re still moving. We’re still able to get up on our feet and chase this guy.’ That will [to live] is just survival. Your body just takes over. You get that feeling of, `I’ve got to make it out of here. I’ve got to make it home,’ ” Del Valle said.
Nearly a half-dozen of the police officers honored during Tuesday’s ceremony had been shot by criminals they were trying to apprehend.
The elder Friedlieb, who was shot at, but never hit during 42 years on the streets of Chicago, couldn’t help but take notice.
“They’re getting bolder….It’s a lot harder for the officers today,” the father said.
The Lambert Tree Award, this year’s highest honor for fire bravery, went to Lieutenant/EMT John Majka and firefighter/paramedic Anthony Licato.
Together, they rescued a bedridden, 94-year-old woman from the second floor of a burning house on the Far South Side.
Despite intense heat and blinding smoke, Majka didn’t wait for water lines to be hooked up before beginning the search. He charged up the stairs, found the woman and was attempting to carry her out unconscious just as Licato arrived with a hose line to help him.
“I saw her ankle hanging off the bed right near the floor and just crawled up to her face. I could see she was burned. But she did take a breath, so that led me to believe she had a chance to survive. So, I kicked it into higher gear and got her out of there,” Majka recalled.
Pressed on what went through his mind on that day, Majka said, “You do have to choke down that uncertainty and that fear and push forward. It’s only human to do that. But that’s what we do.”
For Licato, being called a hero wasn’t easy. He said he would “much rather be at the firehouse.”
The best part of Tuesday’s ceremony was bringing his sons, ages 2 and 4, to the fire academy.
“They’re very excited to be here…They love the Fire Department. This was a big day for them,” he said, to the squeals of his delighted children.