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Updated 10/09/12 – 5:13 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A total of 31 Chicago Police and Firefighters received awards at a ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday, honoring them for everything from holding their fire at a dangerous moment, to entering burning buildings twice in the same shift.
City officials and Police and Fire Department brass honored members of the rank-and-file who’d risked — and in some cases gave — their own lives to save others
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the actions required character, and revealed the character of those so honored.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has the story of the remarkable recovery of one officer who nearly didn’t make it after risking his life to catch an armed criminal.
Among those honored on Tuesday was Chicago Police Officer Del Pearson, who nearly bled to death after he was shot while chasing a suspect on the South Side in March.
Pearson stood tall on Tuesday as he was honored by the city, congratulated by the mayor, and ribbed by Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
“I just wish you would get off this medial leave, and get back to work. I think he’s malingering at this point,” McCarthy said, getting a chuckle out of Pearson.
“I’m waiting for a promotion,” Pearson said, showing he could give as well as he could take.
He looked back on the past six months, without a hint of regret about becoming a police officer.
Asked if he ever questioned his choice of a career after he was severely wounded, Pearson said, “Absolutely not. I’ve been a Chicago policeman since the day I was born.”
Both Pearson and his wife, Christine, credited quick work by fellow officers, the skill of surgeons at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and the prayers of Chicagoans with helping him pull through.
“The thousands of prayers, the cards, and the letters, and the people who called, and who were at the hospital and said that ‘We’re all praying for you,’ and the circle prayers outside the emergency room that night. Just the thousands of prayers, that’s the only explanation I could have,” Pearson said.
Christine said Tuesday might have been even more emotional for her than the day Pearson was shot, because “I saw all the police officers, and firemen, and everyone stand up and give him a standing ovation for surviving.”
Nerve damage to his left hand has kept Pearson off the job since the shooting. Other than that, he said he’s ready to go.
In addition to Pearson, 18 other police officers, and 12 firefighters were honored at Tuesday’s ceremony.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports
The Fire Department’s highest honor, the Carter Harrison Award, went to Firefighter-EMT Lawrence McCormick, who entered one burning building to save his captain; and a second burning building later on the same shift, to rescue an amputee who lay helpless and inert behind a wall of smoke and flame.
“There are some fires, you could take a flashlight, shine it back at your face, and you can’t see the flashlight in front of your face,” he said.
McCormick joked that, since the captain he rescued outweighed him by 50 to 60 pounds, he told his colleague afterward to have a salad.
The Police department’s highest award, the Lambert Tree Award went to Police Officer Joseph Lopez, who put down his weapon upon spotting a family between him and a fleeing gunman.
“When I get to the alley, I’m about to go ahead and shoot the subject, and realize there’s a lady with two children walking in the mouth of the alley,” Lopez recalled. “They look at me, I had to immediately put my gun down.”
Lopez then pursued the gunman again on foot, up a set of back porch stairs, then fired – killing the suspect who’d turned with his gun to confront the officer.