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Mount Prospect firefighters rescue family in Xmas fire, replace gifts

A fire Christmas morning 4am destroyed 3rd floor apartment also ones below it.  Loren Marquez who lives 2nd floor

A fire on Christmas morning at 4am destroyed the 3rd floor apartment and also ones below it. Lorena Marquez who lives on the 2nd floor with her four kids cleans up after water damage and smoke destroyed her apartment in the 6 flat also. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 27, 2012 8:12AM

The 911 fire call came into the village of Mount Prospect early Christmas morning. A mother and her two daughters were trapped in the bedroom of a third-floor apartment, its door burning hot and the living room in flames.

“Smoke started coming up. My mom started choking, then my sister and then my mom tried to wake me up and I couldn’t wake up,” Carmen Jordan told Fox Chicago News.

Firefighters got the family out safely. But this is about a community to the rescue.

In a way, everybody in Mount Prospect, from residents to emergency workers, answered the call weeks ago. Their foresight restored a semblance of the Jordans’ Christmas.

Officials said the fire in the 300 block of West Hawthorne Circle destroyed almost everything in the living room, including the Christmas tree and the presents stacked beneath it.

Firefighters positioned a ladder at the bedroom window and helped Maria Jordan and her girls, ages 12 and 7, crawl down. Once safe on the ground, they got blankets and hugs for comfort and to regain their bearings. The Red Cross ensured they had shelter.

Still, it was Christmas, and something besides the basics was required.

Representatives of the village’s human services department remembered they had extra Christmas presents on hand from this year’s toy drive, a campaign in which the fire department plays the central role.

Janet Abernethy, deputy director of human services, said she rushed to the Village Hall and found more than 20 presents appropriate for the family and got them out in a huge box.

“This situation was just heartbreaking,” she said. “We were able to give the kids a little something and we were so happy we could.”

The gifts included a musical keyboard, Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, old-school games such as Yahtzee, makeup, arts and crafts kits and a couple of DVDs.

Firefighter-paramedic Dale Steward said residents and businesses donated the toys for the village’s 16th annual collection drive. Donations were taken at the village’s three fire stations and distributed to families that human services staff determined to be needy.

This year’s drive reached 120 families and about 300 children, the most ever, he said.

“We’ve seen over the last five years a steady increase in the number of people needing help,” he said. Most gifts are distributed earlier in December, when Santa Claus hitches a ride on the fire rigs and causes a happy commotion around Mount Prospect.

“When we have the flexibility, we like to have some gifts just for emergencies,” Steward said.

Firefighters and human services staffers in Mount Prospect also work together to keep the town’s food pantry well stocked. A favorite technique is to park a fire truck at the local Costco and put a sign on it seeking contributions. Some people fill a shopping cart, then donate the contents.

An emergency call for food went out this year when the pantry ran low, said Human Services director Nancy Morgan. She said the response was so great that poor families were given five bags of groceries before Thanksgiving instead of the normal four.

Mount Prospect officials said the Jordans were taken to a hotel and given a debit card and retailer gift cards.

The children’s father was at work when the blaze broke out but arrived on the scene quickly and is with his family, Abernethy said.

Deputy Fire Chief Chris Truty said the cause of the fire is under investigation and estimated the damage was worth at least $100,000. He said the call came in around 3:50 a.m. Christmas morning and that firefighters from Elk Grove Township, Des Plaines, Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows and Glenview assisted.

Truty said the mother handled the emergency correctly by not opening the bedroom door once she felt it was hot. He also noted that a smoke alarm awoke the family.

A second-floor apartment sustained heavy water damage. It’s the home of Lorena Marquez, her husband and four children. They weren’t at home at the time of the fire and are staying with relatives.

The Christmas spirit also was at work there. Marquez said fire crews took care to move the family’s gifts into a bedroom so they weren’t get soaked and put a tarp over the Christmas tree.

She said she expects it’ll be several days before the family can safely return and is thankful the outcome wasn’t worse. “You’ve just got to keep the faith,” she said.

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