DeKALB – Running into a burning building without firefighter gear? Downright admirable. Doing it a second time? That’s Medal of Honor-worthy.
DeKalb firefighter and paramedic Jared Thorp, 28, was the first member of his department to earn the state’s highest honor for a firefighter, which he received at the Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Fire Fighting Medal of Honor Awards on May 9 in Springfield.
He and his girlfriend were running errands while he was off duty the evening of July 5, 2016. His scanner went off, reporting two people trapped in a burning house on North 14th Street, just south of Dresser Road.
It turns out there was only one, Thorp learned from the rest of the family outside.
And it turns out he just might have saved a young man’s life.
He entered the house, went up the stairs and located the boy in the first bedroom on the left.
“He was stuck kind of behind the door, so I had to force the door open,” Thorp said.
He was able to roll the boy a couple of times to get the door open, but was quickly overcome by the smoke, so he made his way back to the front porch. Hearing sirens, he checked to see whether any engines were in sight. Nope. Back into the ever-growing inferno.
“They always say fire doubles in size every five minutes,” Fire Chief Eric Hicks said.
“I knew I only had a few seconds to make it back up there and see if I could do something,” Thorp said. “Conditions had changed drastically since I’d come back down. Way more heat, way more smoke. Visibility was out the window. I decided instead of making myself another victim, I’d come back down.”
DeKalb Aerial Ladder Truck Co. 1 and Engine Co. 2 arrived and completed the rescue. Firefighters Jon Ritter and Matt Holuj carried the boy down the stairs and put him on the cot outside the door, then threw their coats and packs off at the scene and doubled as paramedics in the ambulance.
The driver? Thorp – his hair singed, his heart thumping with pride.
And to think how things might have played out had he not risked life and limb.
“You can’t ever speculate, but it could have taken them the extra time,” Thorp said. “They wouldn’t have known exactly where to go. They might have searched other rooms, and that probably would have added another minute or two. It’s just one of those things where you’re just geared as a fireman, you’re cranked up and know what’s going on. You look at the house and [can] tell you have some time.”
The two companies also were honored in Springfield. That’s not why any of the men signed up for this, however. Rather, it’s the pride of service, the feeling of saving a life – an elusive feeling Ritter had in the ambulance.
“That was a great feeling,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to pull someone out of a fire, let alone have it be a successful mission.”
Thorp signed up for the job because his dad, Bruce, did, as a volunteer with the Hinckley Fire Protection District. He still serves on its board of trustees. Jared, who still lives in Hinckley, started classes at Indian Valley Vocational Center and was in the Hinckley department’s cadet program at age 16 – and right up until he joined the DeKalb department in 2012.
Naturally, Hinckley made a big deal of the honor. Even state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, was at the 24th annual memorial and celebration.
Thorp was one of three to receive the Medal of Honor, and he became the department’s second individual honoree – Joe Cahill received the Valor Award in the early 2000s.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing in your career,” Thorp said. “I work with a great group of guys who make me look good. They did all the dirty work. It’s an honor to come to work every day and serve the citizens. Obviously, we don’t sign up in this career to look for awards.”