Rogers Park firefighter Mario Araujo came face-to-face with what first responders are heroically confronting on the front lines every day — death as a result of complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus.
The 49-year-old died the evening of April 7, according to a tweet from Larry Langford, a Chicago Fire Department (CFD) spokesperson. October would’ve marked his 17th year with CFD, according to Langford.
He was a member of Truck Company 25, which runs out of Engine 102 (7340 N. Clark St.) in Rogers Park. He spent most of his career at Truck 25, Langford said in the tweet.
Araujo’s cause of death was acute respiratory disease and sepsis due to COVID-19 with hypertensive cardiovascular disease as a contributing factor, according to Natalia Derevyanny, a spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner.
Because of the virus, a limited number of family, friends and colleagues gathered April 13 for a memorial service and procession to lay Araujo to rest at Montrose Cemetery on the city’s Northwest side.
“This is totally different from our regular line-of-duty deaths,” Langford told The Phoenix.
Deputy District Chief 2nd District Brian McKermitt said in a press conference the department is “like a big family” and is struggling with the loss of Araujo.
“So, we’re all taking this … you know, we’re not taking it well,” McKermitt said. “We’re trying to get through it.”
As of April 17, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 27,575 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,134 deaths.
Battalion Chief James O’Donnell said in the press conference he’s well-trained to instruct his team to fight fires, but COVID-19 isn’t a crisis first responders are used to dealing with.
“They’re walking into this environment that is invisible, so it’s a horrible feeling for all of us … the unknown,” O’Donnell said.
McKermitt said in the press conference Araujo was single and is survived by his mother, who couldn’t be reached for comment. He was close with those he worked with on the first shift, according to McKermitt.
“They were a tight-knit group,” McKermitt said. “[Araujo was] very helpful, very friendly.”
One of Araujo’s coworkers on the first shift also tested positive for COVID-19 and is at home, according to McKermitt. It’s unclear if he’s self-isolated. The fire department is closely monitoring him, McKermitt said.
Araujo also worked as an auxiliary corporal for the Rosemont Public Safety Department. The northwest suburb’s department posted on Facebook shortly after he died.
“We have lost a man of great significance and purpose,” the post said. “A selfless man that served not one, but two communities.”
The Rosemont Public Safety Department couldn’t be reached for comment.
The 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden didn’t know Araujo personally but said the impact has been felt by the Rogers Park community. She said when she first heard of his death, she felt “helpless.”
“In the middle of this pandemic, that none of us has ever experienced before, there’s just this extra layer of unknown and for me also some inevitable dread of knowing that folks like Mario, the firefighters, the paramedics, the EMTs, the healthcare workers, the public transit workers, the grocery store workers are every day putting themselves in such high risk,” Hadden said.
She said she stopped by the firehouse to offer her condolences and spoke with O’Donnell.
While they were talking, Truck 25 responded to another respiratory emergency, Hadden said. O’Donnell told her it was a COVID-19-related call.
Hadden said she asked O’Donnell what the community can do to support those working on the front line during this pandemic and he said for people to stay home.
“There are people risking their lives multiple times a day so that we all as a city and a country and a society can continue, and so if you’re not one of those people who’s being asked to do that, you need to stay home,” Hadden said.