Excerpts from the DailyHerald.com:

“Your house is on fire!” were the words of my neighbor on my wife’s cellphone as we walked to our car at O’Hare International Airport (Jan. 17, 2016).

Instantly my wife got very upset and I tried to calm her by telling her it’s probably a chimney fire and it will be ok. So many calls of concern came in as we drove home, we finally had to turn off the cellphones. The drive to Lindenhurst seemed to take forever.

As we turned into the neighborhood we raced to beat a fire truck coming down the road. I could no longer try to act calm — I had to get there. We turned the corner to reality — reality that our lives are now changed forever.

I think there were four fire trucks, a couple police cars and ambulances strewed throughout the neighborhood, hoses everywhere and people — lots of people. As I got closer I could see our personal items past the broken windows and the charred front door. The smell was nothing I had ever experienced before … actually none of this I had experienced before.

As I walked up, scared to get in the way, I was greeted by neighbors and friends but I kept walking to get a closer look. It was then I was greeted by firemen all working hard to save houses. It about 8 p.m. now, and there was ice, snow, water everywhere. I could see teams of firemen trying to get to the flames. Sounds of a circular saw cutting holes in my home. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why they would cut holes in my walls. Didn’t they realize I’d have a lot of work to do to fix all of this? Didn’t they know how hard it would be fix those holes?

I was greeted by a big fireman named Greg Phillips, who was covered in ice from the water. He greeted me to tell me how sorry he was. He told me the severity of the fire and that my home would be a total loss. He answered every question I had and explained what they struggled with.

When I think of those conversations today, I think about how difficult that has to be, to tell a family their lives will change.

For the next several hours, I watched as the firemen worked in freezing cold temperatures, never once leaving the area. At 2:30 a.m., the fire was out. It was so bad they had to cut my living room floor open to flood my basement to put out the last flames.

As I walked around to thank this dedicated group of guys, I would pat them on their backs and watch as ice slide off their coats. They walked like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, they were so frozen. ¬†With the temperature now falling to 26 below zero, they struggled to roll their hoses. They couldn’t roll up the hoses like normal because they were so frozen — they called in a pickup truck to come and they just piled the hoses in the best they could.

Slowly these trucks powered down, each man exhausted from the work and the time of day. They had just worked about 10 hours in the freezing cold, putting their lives at risk so my neighbors and I could keep our houses. Yet, each of them, one by one came over to tell me how sorry they were for my loss. They all took a moment to ask about my daughter, who was in the house when the fire started, and to make sure she was OK. These are all people I had never met, yet did so much for my family that night.

Here is what I learned — the Lake Villa Fire Protection District is a force filled with volunteer firefighters. These guys do this because they like the work but they also have other jobs as well. As a volunteer, they don’t do this full time and so when they left my home at 2:30 a.m., they had to rush home to get some sleep before they went to their day-to-day jobs that next morning. Almost like they were never out fighting a big house fire until 2:30 a.m.

There is no way I could ever repay all the neighbors and friends who stood by our side through all of this. One neighbor who I never really knew very well stood out there in the 26-below temperatures with me and made sure I had blankets and jackets to keep me warm. People gave us clothes, donations and offers to do anything that is needed. The Lindenhurst Police department kept vigil on the smoldering ruins and kept the gawkers away — all the officers waving and asking if we are OK. You can’t repay that kind of stuff, but only know that when it’s their turn, you’re there for them as well.

The reason for my story is I took the fire department for granted. My kids loved to see them at the parades because the trucks are cool. Trust me, you only want to see those trucks in a parade but when they are in front of your house — the guys inside them become cool. You don’t plan for fires, they are unexpected, which is why I guess we have our fire departments. I’ve always been a guy who waves during the parade and moves on. I drive by the fire houses all the time and don’t think anything of them.

Not anymore. These guys are volunteers — doing it because they like that work. They work to help us, those who just wave during the parades. They work to save our memories, our families and the things we love. They work so we can sleep at night and wake up in the morning. It sounds silly to say this, but they are my heroes.

My family lost everything in the fire, but the point is these guys didn’t give up. They fought during the worst weather Chicago could throw at them, they worked through personal injury, and yet they all still care enough to keep going.

This weekend is Lake Villa Days, a time when everyone gathers to have fun. I’ve been going there each year for a long time. We go for the good bands, the cold beers and to see friends and have a great night.

This year, I will go for a different reason. The event is sponsored by the Lake Villa Firefighters Association and I’m going to honor the firemen. I’m going to thank every one of these guys I can find. I’m going to find Greg Phillips and thank him along with all the guys who worked so hard to help my family. The guys who work around the clock to make us safe, put their lives at risk and have golden hearts.

I hope that after reading this, you too will go for a different reason. Please take a moment to thank a firefighter if you see them at Lake Villa Days. They are some very special and talented people who deserve more recognition than a wave during a parade.

They are our heroes … trust me.

thanks Dan