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Ramp helps boost independence for Elgin woman

From left: Elgfirefighter Dave Talbot carpenter Rick Golowacz CreatiCarpentry chwith Dawn Rodriguez over lunch ElgFire StatiNo. 5 Friday September 21

From left: Elgin firefighter Dave Talbot and carpenter Rick Golowacz of Creation Carpentry chat with Dawn Rodriguez over lunch at Elgin Fire Station No. 5 on Friday, September 21, 2012. Rodriguez brought the station lunch after they returned to her house unnanounced to install a handicap accessible ramp at her home after an emergency call had brought them to her home earlier this year. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 25, 2012 6:12AM

ELGIN — Dawn Rodriguez had a small emergency on Memorial Day weekend that not only put her in touch with Elgin firefighters but gave her newfound mobility. 

Rodriguez, 41, is a little person and has been using a motorized wheelchair since she was about 19 years old. But about 11:30 p.m. May 26, a laptop cord had gotten wrapped around one of the chair’s wheels. The chair wouldn’t move, and the cord only got more and more tangled before she called for help.

Rather than let firefighters break down her locked door on arrival, Rodriguez belly-crawled from her back bedroom to her front door to let Elgin firefighters in before she used her Life Alert bracelet to summon help.

The firefighters were able to untangle the cord and make sure she could move about her home until her part-time assistant arrived Monday.

On the way out, firefighter Mitch Whalen asked if there was anything else they could do to help her.

“It would be nice to not be looking at four walls every day. Do you know anyone who is good with a hammer?” Rodriguez asked. Since moving to Elgin from Texas last November, Rodriguez had mostly been confined to her small rental home. She has family here, but none with the resources to get her ramp built.

That one comment led firefighters to arrange for a wheelchair ramp to be built for Rodriguez’s southeast Elgin home. Now, instead of having to wait for her aide to take her out — and only during mornings — Rodriguez can leave her home on her own.

“Dawn has such a great, positive attitude. She was joking around with us” as they fixed the wheelchair, Whalen said. But it struck a nerve for him and firefighter Chris Kennedy, who was also on the call, when she said she needed a ramp to get out of the house, he said. 

“I figured I could at least ask around and find someone to help,” Whalen said.

Whalen called his friend Rick Golowacz of Batavia and Creation Carpentry, about getting the ramp. He agreed to design the ramp and get it built.

On Memorial Day morning, a firetruck pulled in front of her little house. Lt. Bob Bedard, Whalen and a few other firefighters were there, promising to get the ramp completed.

The firefighters union wrote a check for the supplies, said Bedard. Firefighters helped cut lumber and pound nails, and the ramp was completed June 24.

With the ramp, she can dial up bus service from Pace, get on a Metra train in downtown Elgin, and go into Chicago for the day all on her own, Rodriguez said. She’s gone shopping out on Randall Road and checked out Elgin Community College, too.

She even got to attend a conference for little people back in Texas, without many of the trials and help that usually accompany a trip.

In thanks and to celebrate her birthday Wednesday, Rodriguez cooked a lunch on Friday of chicken enchiladas, Mexican rice and cake for the firefighters of Station 5.

“We haven’t been able to cook here for awhile” because the fire station’s kitchen is being updated, said Lt. Amanda Bruce.

Rodriguez doesn’t like asking for help. “But I feel like myself again, and a lot of people have noticed the change. I’ve regained my independence.”

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