On Nov. 15, 1963, Chicago firefighter Eddie Groya pulled a 5-year-old to safety from a furious blaze in an apartment building at 547 W. Melrose. The little boy, Ricardo Vega, was a refugee from Cuba whose family had fled the Castro regime with only the clothes on their backs.
He never forgot the powerful hands that grabbed him and his grandfather from the smoke and flames and carried them down the stairs to safety. This Wednesday, he will be the honor guard who stands next to Eddie Groya’s casket.
Firefighter Eddie Groya died Monday at age 86.
The 5-year-old boy whose life Groya saved was a Cuban refugee who grew up to become Chicago Fire Lieutenant Rick Vega. What’s even more amazing is that Vega now works out of the same Lakeview firehouse as the man who inspired him to become a firefighter. It’s just a few blocks away from the burning apartment building where Vega was led to safety by the steady hands of fireman Eddie Groya.
Lieutenant Vega says he’ll stand honor guard during Groya’s wake Wednesday is his full uniform, honoring the life of the man who saved his life.
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 Monday, Groya died from complications from esophageal cancer at the age of 86.
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