The TribLocal has an article about a Highland Park firefighter being awarded the Medal of Valor.

… Christopher Gottschalk … [always] dreamed of becoming a firefighter. On a cold morning in December, his passion and training drove him to save a man, helpless and gasping for breath, inside a burning Highland Park home as flames raced up the basement walls and across a plywood ceiling in a room filling rapidly with thick smoke.

Gottschalk, 33 and a firefighter for nine years, two and a half with the city, will receive the state’s second highest fire service award, the Medal of Valor, in a May 6 ceremony in Springfield. It is the first such award given to a Highland Park firefighter in the department’s 125-year history.

Gottschalk and Lt. Steve Horne were the first firefighters to reach a two-story wood frame home on Glenview Avenue, the scene of the 4 a.m. basement fire that sent multiple residents, some carrying small children, running into the street.

Highland Park police, the first to arrive, had questioned residents and learned a man was still inside the house, most likely in the basement. Police alerted arriving firefighters that they would be dealing with a rescue situation.

A cop told Gottschalk that the kitchen, right off the basement stairs, was already too hot to enter. The firefighters entered the house through a screened-in porch, and Gottschalk located the basement stairwell and began descending — without the protection of a fire hose. The staircase acted as a huge funnel, sending heat and smoke racing up to the ground level as he descended. Horne was tasked with locating the origin of the fire.

“When I reached the bottom of the stairs, it was floor to ceiling smoke, and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face,” Gottschalk said. Crouched near the floor, Gottschalk used a hand-held thermal imaging camera to search for the man they believed was down there. “I did a quick scan with the camera to my right. I scanned to the left and saw a (metal support pipe for the ceiling), a workout bench and washer and dryer. I still didn’t see any victim and was about to go right, but it was one of those things that told me to go left. I aimed the camera behind a wall and the victim was lying there.”

“I had my flashlight on and saw him trying to gasp for air. I was about 10 feet from the stairs and I could hear the lieutenant coming down and relayed to him (via their helmet radio phones) that I found the victim. I shined the flashlight at the stairs so the lieutenant would know where I was.”

It was Gottschalk’s job to get the victim, over 200 pounds of unclothed and slippery “dead weight,” to safety, while Horne continued to search for the fire’s origin.  [other] firefighters entered the basement with hoses and moved the victim to safety. The man, initially listed as critical, recovered, said officials, who determined that a space heater had ignited a mattress and bed clothes to start the fire.

Highland Park Deputy Fire Chief Daniel Pease said it is not common for a relatively inexperienced firefighter to enter a burning structure alone without a “charged fire hose” for protection, but the situation dictated bold action in both the rescue and in assessing the fire threat for arriving units. “In the fire service you risk a lot so you can save a lot,” said Pease. Or, “you risk little to save little.”

Twelve Illinois firefighters will be awarded the Medal of Valor for 2013 and seven men the Medal of Honor, the state’s highest award …