On Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that an 86-year-old fireman called Eddie Groya had died over the weekend, of complications from esophageal cancer.
Groya is best remembered for his 1963 rescue of a 5-year-old boy and his grandfather from a blazing apartment building.
Today, the little boy he saved is keeping his rescuer’s legacy alive — because he grew up to be Chicago Fire Lieutenant Rick Vega.
Vega belongs to a unit called Truck 44 — incidentally, the same number Groya worked on.
“It means everything to me,” he told WGN 9 News in November 2012. “Really you could cut me and I’d bleed Truck 44.”
Last year, the two met for the first time since the rescue. But even before the reunion, Vega had been inspired by Groya.
In 2007, he recounted to the Chicago Tribune just how in awe of his rescuer he was.
“These guys had no masks. They’ve got an unbelievable fire, they were throwing these wooden ladders, not these aluminum ladders we have now,” Vega remembered. “You know how these guys did it? It’s incredible. And how we got out was even more incredible, without masks, because we should not have made it.”
On Wednesday, Vega plans to stand honor guard in full uniform during his rescuer’s wake.
“That’s the least I can do,” he told the Sun-Times. “Here’s a man that literally saved my life, and here’s the end of his life, and I’m going to stand honor guard for him. I would be honored and proud to do that.”