SOUTH SHORE — Two men who died following a fire in a South Shore high-rise apparently succumbed to smoke after they saved an 81-year-old woman from the destruction on Tuesday, officials said.
Police said John Fasula, 50, and Jameel Johnson, 36, who were doing contract work in the high-rise apartment building for a satellite cable company, saved the woman after the fire broke out on the seventh floor of the 16-story building at 6730 South Shore Dr.
About 190 firefighters and paramedics were called to the fast-moving blaze, which started around 8:40 a.m. and spread to the eighth floor. Residents panicked from the smell of smoke.
The two contractors heard the woman screaming and went to her apartment with fire extinguishers, police said. They put the woman in an elevator and pressed the button to take her down to the ground level.
The woman collapsed in the lobby and went into cardiac arrest, but personnel were able to resuscitate her. She was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center in critical condition.
But the two men weren't as lucky.
Fasula and Johnson went into cardiac arrest, apparently from smoke inhalation, and were rushed to nearby hospitals, where they were pronounced dead within minutes of each other.
Family of Fasula gathered inside their Bridgeport home in the 3800 block of South Lowe Avenue Wednesday, reeling from the devastation the fire wreaked.
An uncle of Fasula, who lives next door, said relatives were devastated.
"He was a good guy. He worked hard, and the family's very distraught right now," he said, declining to talk further.
His aunt said Fasula also worked for the CTA.
"They don't come much better," said his aunt, Felicia, who declined to give her last name.
A spokeswoman for the CTA confirmed Fasula had been working for the agency since 1983 and was listed as a systems maintenance manager.
Robert Kelly, president of the union representing CTA rail workers, said Fasula’s former coworkers were not surprised he put himself in harm’s way to help save someone in trouble.
"You know he died doing what everyone says he did: helping others," Kelly said. "He would take the shirt off his back to help you out.”
He added: "Lots of times you hear that about people, but everybody who knew him says this is the type of guy he was.”
Johnson's family, gathered Wednesday at the home of a relative in Brainerd, declined to comment.
The high-rise was not outfitted with sprinklers, which are not a requirement in buildings constructed before 1975.
"All the fire safety equipment that we were supposed to have worked as it was supposed to," said Michael Rutwoski, whose company First Community Management owns the building.
The City Council originally asked owners of older buildings in Chicago to update fire safety features by Jan. 1, 2012. But that deadline was pushed to 2015, ensuring that older buildings can keep what officials have said are outdated safety structures.