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Citizens recognized for taking action during destructive West Peoria apartment fire

West Peoria resident Norman Johnson (middle left) receives a lifesaving award from West Peoria Police Chief Terry Schadt (middle right). Citizens Tristan Morris and Dillon Lyon were also recognized for their efforts during a June 20th fire at Edgewood Apartments.
Collin Schopp
West Peoria resident Norman Johnson, middle left, receives a lifesaving award from West Peoria Police Chief Terry Schadt (middle right). Citizens Tristan Morris and Dillon Lyon were also recognized for their efforts during a June 20 fire at Edgewood Apartments.

The West Peoria Fire Department and community members gathered Wednesday to recognize the actions of a few brave individuals during a June 20 fire at Edgewood Apartments.

Fire Chief Terry Schadt said officials responded to the 2700 block of West Radan Court just before 10:30 p.m. They found the back stairwells of the Edgewood Apartments engulfed in flame all the way up to the third floor. Caleb Martin and Jessica Widger were trapped in their third-floor apartment, along with their children, Amelia and Sofia.

A group of Peoria County Sheriff’s deputies, firefighters from West Peoria and Limestone and nearby citizens quickly found a bedsheet to hold taut. The group shouted encouragement to the family above. Martin and Widger were able to drop their youngest daughter three stories to safety. The group then helped the rest of the family down a ladder to escape the blaze.

West Peoria residents Norman Johnson, Tristan Morris and Dillon Lyon were given lifesaving awards for their actions that day. Other recipients of the lifesaving awards are Peoria County Sheriff’s deputies Joseph Vissering, Miles Winder, Tim Gilmore and Lt. David Zook.

The firefighters recognized are Kacper Soja, Zach Scudder and John Harris of the West Peoria Fire Department, as well as Alex Stauthammer and Lexi Matheson of the Limestone Fire Department.

Country Financial also made a $9,500 donation to the West Peoria Fire Department at the event on Wednesday to recognize its service to the community.

“I'm glad to see our average Joes are getting recognized for what they deserve for being there, and no questions asked, just doing what they need to be doing,” Martin said. “ And these firefighters and officers, doing their job and being there, it's amazing. Everybody comes together and makes things happen.”

Widger was surprised by the willingness of neighbors she barely knew to put themselves in harm’s way to help protect her family.

“One of them, I didn't even ever know his name, see his face nothing,” she said. “And just the fact that, I mean, a complete stranger and two almost strangers came together to help our family. Like that was just amazing.”

Norman Johnson is one of those strangers.

“It was just on instinct,” he said. “I just thought about the kids that was trapped in there, and my main focus was on getting the kids out of there."

Tristan Morris also said the safety of the children was his priority.

“I was not expecting all this,” he said. “I think I did what any normal man would have done under those circumstances.”

Morris’ apartment also was destroyed in the fire. He said he’s receiving support from friends and family.

Martin and Widger said starting the recovery process has been difficult, as they and their kids recover from the physical, mental and material impacts of the fire.

“It’s rough, nothing has came easy, nothing at all,” Widger said. “But the kids are doing good, thanks to the community and everybody who’s pitched in to help. And that’s really the most that we can hope for, is that the kids are doing well.”

Martin said the entire experience has increased his trust in the people around him.

“Learn to put your faith in somebody even though you don't want to and come together and make amazing things happen,” he said. “That is the true nature of being human."

According to the West Peoria Fire Department, the fire caused $2.25 million in losses, with as many as 30 people displaced. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.