They Left With Their Wallets and Lives


It’s a humid Tuesday morning and you are awakened at 5 a.m. by the screams of the “crazy lady” in the building. Her voice is quickly drowned out by other voices and noises. You try to fall back to sleep, but you know something is wrong. Finally, you find the strength to pull yourself out of bed to investigate. You open your front door to find a wall of fire, soot and intense heat. Panicked, you run to the back door only to meet more billowing flames. With no options left, you open your window and scream for help. For Czenzi Jones-Boyd and Dennis Boyd, this wasn’t a hypothetical situation.

Firefighters on scene heard the couples’ cries from four stories up and came to the rescue. The couple’s hope for survival was soon shattered after they realized that the firefighters’ ladder was too short for Czenzi to reach.  Dennis tried to swing his wife out the window to the ladder. Czenzi was reluctant to let go until the firefighter said, “Ma’am you have to let go [of your husband].” Despite Dennis and the firefighters’ efforts, Czenzi plummeted three stories to the roof of the lobby. On her way down, Czenzi injured her hand and landed on her ankle.

Dennis was tall enough to reach the ladder, but got tangled in their curtain while trying to escape the fiery inferno. He finally escaped and climbed down the ladder. Once Czenzi knew her husband was safe, she allowed the ambulance to take her to the hospital. Czenzi was released from the hospital a couple hours later and returned to the only place she could call home. She joined other displaced residents, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, who had been on the scene handing out coffee, water and donuts less than half-an-hour after the blaze engulfed the 80 unit apartment building that once housed hundreds of people.

When the rest of the Disaster Action Team from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago arrived, the sun was blaring down on the displaced residents, who were hungry, thirsty, upset and lost. The now homeless victims seemed distraught, except for Czenzi. She relaxed against a metal fence, one hand bandaged and one foot elevated on a milk crate.  The heat and her injuries gave her cause to complain, but she remained calm and collected.  The rising temperature was nothing compared to the heat she endured earlier that morning. 

“I’m glad to be alive,” Czenzi said.


Their wallets and their lives were the only things the fire didn’t destroy. The Boyds were two of 26 people that were left homeless after the fire. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago opened a shelter at a nearby church for the displaced residents. At the church, the victims were given food, hygiene products and a place to call home for a couple nights. After the Boyds arrived at the shelter, their moods improved. You could see Dennis smiling and hear Czenzi laughing. The Boyds shared this moment of happiness because of the support provided by volunteers and donors at The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. As some volunteers  left the shelter, Czenzi expressed her appreciation with a hug and these kind words, “We wouldn’t have made it without you.”

By Patrick Cavanaugh and Lindsey Warneke

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