Jan. 14, 2010

Pat McBrien, like many firefighters, is quick to give credit to each member of his firehouse.

Though McBrien went into a Brookfield home enveloped by thick black smoke and helped find three unconscious family members inside, the 33-year-old said each task at the scene was essential.

The Orland Park resident works for the Brookfield Fire Department and recently was awarded the 100 Club of Chicago’s Valor Award for the second time.

The 100 Club is a civilian organization that provides financial aid for families of police officers, fire fighters and paramedics who die while on duty. In 1980, the group began recognizing specific actions by members of those fields in Cook County each year. McBrien was among the five professionals honored in 2009.

“Do I think we should all get (recognition)? Yeah,” McBrien said from the Brookfield firehouse. “I’m not the only one who’s at the fire, everybody has a role there and there’s no way we could get the job done without everyone focused on their specific jobs.”

McBrien and firefighters Nicholas Tomeczko and Frank Oliver were the first team to enter the home, not knowing whether anyone was still inside. The trio split up, feeling their way through the room. Oliver found an infant girl first, and McBrien and Tomeczko found an unconscious 4-year-old boy and an elderly man.

The newborn survived, but both the young boy and the children’s grandfather died due to their prolonged exposure to smoke.

“It’s really unfortunate that two of the people we pulled out didn’t make it. It’s great that at least we were able to save the little girl and there were such bad conditions (during the fire) I’m surprised anybody could live through that,” McBrien said.

That call – and any other that involves someone inside a building on fire – will always stick out in McBrien’s memory.

“Anytime you have a call with people inside, that just doesn’t happen everyday,” he said. “Some firefighters go through their whole career without doing it at all.”

In his nearly seven years as a firefighter, McBrien has already done it twice. The 33-year-old’s first Valor Award came after rescuing another 4-year-old boy from a home engulfed in flames.

Being a firefighter was something McBrien always wanted to do and finally achieved about seven years ago. After earning paramedic certification, he began working part time for the Willow Springs Fire Department in 2003 and accepted a full-time job in Brookfield a year later.

McBrien said the ceremony was a great experience and again stressed the role other members of his firehouse and five other suburban houses played last January.

“There’s just no way we could have received that award if it weren’t for all the guys focused on the little parts that make up our group effort,” he said.