Des Plaines man, firefighters honored for separate lifesaving efforts

  • The firefighters who rescued a 71-year-old woman from this Des Plaines duplex during a December fire were honored by the city Monday.

    The firefighters who rescued a 71-year-old woman from this Des Plaines duplex during a December fire were honored by the city Monday. Courtesy of the Des Plaines Fire Department

Posted2/8/2022 5:30 AM

A Des Plaines man who pulled a drunken driver out of a car as two commuter trains approached last fall was honored Monday by the city council.

The council also recognized six firefighters who saved a woman from a burning duplex in late December.


Higinio "Mike" Ortega received a Citizen Service Award for the Oct. 29 rescue involving the trains.

About 6:45 that night, Ortega was driving near Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road and saw a Lexus sedan stuck on the nearby railroad tracks, Deputy Police Chief Dan Shanahan wrote in a memo.

After stopping to check on the driver, Ortega saw two Metra trains bearing down on them, one from each direction, Ortega tried to get the man out of the Lexus, but the driver refused to get out.

Ortega called 911 and activated his cellphone's flashlight to alert the train engineers, but the trains didn't stop. Ortega then forced open the driver's door and pulled the man out, police said.

Emergency dispatchers reached Metra, and the trains stopped before hitting the Lexus.

"Mr. Ortega's courage and calm under pressure, while disregarding his own safety to help a fellow citizen, allowed him to save the life of a stranger," Shanahan wrote.

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The Lexus's driver subsequently was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, police said.

A version of Shanahan's narrative was engraved on a plaque and read aloud by Police Chief David Anderson Monday before being given to Ortega.

The other heroes lauded Monday -- Des Plaines firefighter/paramedics Daniel Garhan and Nathan Oeslager, Lt. Steven Redmond of the North Maine Fire Protection District, firefighter/engineer Zach Missen of North Maine and firefighter/paramedics Randy Frase and Neptali Bailon of North Maine -- received lifesaving awards for their actions.

On Dec. 22, firefighters pulled a 71-year-old woman from the second floor of a burning home on North East River Road.

Des Plaines firefighters used a ladder to enter the home through a second-story window. A North Maine Fire District team simultaneously started battling the blaze on the ground level.

Despite heavy smoke and low visibility, firefighters found the woman and got her down the ladder. She was taken to a hospital and survived.

Des Plaines Fire Chief Daniel Anderson called the rescue "an example of great teamwork."

The firefighters, all wearing their dress uniforms, received certificates describing the rescue.

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