A tense scene ended in applause from dozens of bystanders Friday night when firefighters freed a woman whose foot became stuck in a narrow gap as she crossed Michigan Avenue.
About 10:30 p.m., the woman's foot became lodged in an expansion joint in a crosswalk connecting Michigan and Wacker Drive, said Chris Lyons, a deputy fire chief for the Chicago Fire Department.
Firefighters helped the woman remain calm as they readied to free her foot using the tool commonly known as the Jaws of Life, fire officials said. As crowds of bystanders looked on from both sides of Michigan Avenue, police and fire officials asked if anyone had hand lotion, sending some in the crowd rushing toward nearby businesses and hotels to look.
Working from the street level and also from underneath on Lower Wacker Drive, firefighters drilled near the woman's foot, gradually expanding the space until her foot could slide free. About 11:15 p.m. -- roughly 45 minutes after the ordeal began -- bystanders cheered as firefighters lifted the woman into view and helped her onto a stretcher.
The woman, whose age was not immediately released, smiled as she was wheeled into an ambulance. She was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for evaluation.
"As far as I know she's doing very well," Lyons said.
The incident was the only one of its kind the deputy chief could remember in 28 years of experience, he said.
Phillip Southard, a tourist who arrived at the intersection shortly after 10:30 p.m., didn't know the woman who became stuck. But when Southard heard officials asking for hand lotion, he rushed toward the closest hotel he could find and made his way right to the bathroom.
The plastic container holding liquid hand soap wouldn't detach easily, so he struck it firmly with his hand, breaking the container free.
"I said, 'Send me the bill,' " he recalled telling a bewildered hotel employee as he ran back to the firefighters, soap container in hand.
He quickly rejoined his girlfriend and his sister's family in the crowd on Michigan Avenue's south sidewalk, where he watched until firefighters wheeled the woman into an ambulance.
A New Jersey resident, Southard said he had enjoyed the day trip from his sister's home in Indiana. But gesturing toward the gap in the crosswalk several yards in front of him, he said was taking one lesson away from Friday night's commotion.
"I'll be more careful when I see these joints in the street," he said.