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Neighbor heralded as hero after pulling woman from Hammond fire

John Tomczak Hammond takes break from work Safety Kleen East Chicago. Tomczak rescued his neighbor from their burning house Wednesday

John Tomczak of Hammond takes a break from work at Safety Kleen in East Chicago. Tomczak rescued his neighbor from their burning house Wednesday morning. | Michelle L. Quinn/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 28, 2014 10:31AM



HAMMOND — A Hammond man was called a hero after rescuing his neighbor from their burning home Wednesday morning.

John Tomczak Jr. was watching TV in his living room about 10:25 a.m. when he heard a strangled noise coming from outside, he said. He went to the back of his house to see if he could figure out what it was.

He didn’t see anything in the alley, but he heard a distinct “Help me! Help!” When he looked back, he saw his neighbors’ house on fire in the 7100 block of Arizona Avenue, Tomczak said Wednesday evening.

Then he saw was his neighbor, Paul Wilson, desperately trying to get back into the house. Tomczak ran to help and called 911.

“(Wilson) said, ‘Brenda’s in there! We have to break the door down!’ ” Tomczak said.

Tomczak, a supervisor with Safety-Kleen in East Chicago for 36 years, was hesitant to do that because he’d been taught in training that firefighters need to vent a fire through the roof so oxygen won’t suddenly feed a blaze and cause an explosion. The panic in his neighbor’s eyes, however, made him react differently.

“I kicked the door in with one kick, then ran to the street in case the house blew up,” Tomczak said. “I waited a minute, which seemed like forever, and everything seemed OK.”

But the smoke was too thick for the men to enter the house, so Tomczak ran to the north bedroom window, where Brenda Wilson was sleeping. The woman was awake but dazed.

“I told her she needed to come out the window and that I would help her. It took a minute to register with her, but she came, and I pulled her out,” Tomczak said.

Hammond firefighters arrived on the scene and transported Brenda Wilson to an area hospital, fire investigator Diane Brzycki said. Brzycki said the woman was transported to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., for smoke inhalation.

Brzycki said the fire was in the bathroom area of the rental property and appeared to be an accident, although its cause is still under investigation. The fire, which crept through the wall and up to the roof, was under control in about 45 minutes.



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