Renaldo Vera first heard barking from his pit bull, Chicago. Then, from his third-story window, he noticed what Chicago was barking at: Someone outside was screaming. He heard glass breaking.
“I shouted, ‘Is everything OK?’ And they yelled back, ‘No.’”
It was before 6 a.m. Monday and Vera wasn’t sure what was happening — he wasn’t even sure he knew the person who was in danger — but he knew something was wrong. So without hesitation, he said, he “jumped up and grabbed some clothes and just left.”
Within a matter of minutes, Vera had helped pull two people from a burning building — including a 7-year-old boy — likely saving their lives.
Another resident in the home, a woman who Chicago Fire Department officials said was in her 60s, died in the fire. The 7-year-old and his mother, who firefighters estimated to be 30, suffered critical injuries.
“I got to the front of the house and I (saw) this gentleman breaking windows. I couldn’t see flames at that point but I (saw) smoke and I heard this little boy screaming. The little boy’s grandfather was trying to get him out the window so I helped pull him out while he went to go see if there was another way in. I took the boy across the street and laid him down,” Vera said.
Vera said the older man had used some rocks and his feet to bust out the windows of the basement in the 5700 block of West 64th Street and there were still glass shards around the edges when the two men pulled out the two people who had been trapped. They both suffered cuts from the glass, as well as burns, he said.
As Vera began to help the woman through the window, she told him to go back to her boy.
“I started trying to help her get out and she said, ‘Just tend to my son,’” Vera said. “So I went back across the street. He didn’t want me to leave his sight. He wanted me to stay right next to him. I was holding him until the ambulance came and got him. He was a wonderful boy. I just kept telling him, ‘It’s OK, you did good,’ telling him a lot of positive things.”
Members of the family he helped aren’t the only ones grateful for his quick action. The Chicago Fire Department posted about Vera on social media: “Hats off to a neighbor near the fire this morning. His dog heard the screams and woke him. He went to the fire building and helped rescue a child and adult before CFD got on scene. Thank you so much Mr. Renaldo Vera! And thanks to his pit bull named Chicago.”
People Vera has seen in the neighborhood, near Midway Airport, have told him others are calling him the area’s angel, something he downplays.
“This neighborhood, I’ve been here a long time. This community is more of a loving community, we all look out for each other. Even though we don’t know each other very well, we all help out each other,” he said. “You can ask anybody in this neighborhood and they would do the same thing for me that I did.”
That’s something he learned from his late father, who died about three years ago.
“My dad kind of inspired me because he always put everyone else first, he looked out for everybody. I try to be the same way,” Vera said. “I always said that I would keep his spirit alive by looking after other people.”
And he has, so much so that when his sister heard what he’d done, she wasn’t remotely surprised.
“He’s got my father’s heart for sure,” Veronica Vera said.
Vera said he was glad he went outside to see if he could help because he would not have known it was a fire just from looking at the building. When he first arrived he couldn’t tell anything was burning, but as he walked closer to the house smoke began billowing out in a small stream.
“It’s good we got to them when we did,” Vera said. “After a while there was a big burst of flames from the basement window. The little boy said it started in the basement,” Vera said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, officials said.