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As the first firefighters from the Oak Park South Station pulled up in front of a raging, "fully involved" blaze at 814 Clinton Ave. around 4:20 a.m. on Sunday morning, they realized the amount of water from the mid-block hydrant would not be sufficient to combat the flames, said Oak Park Fire Chief Tom Ebsen.
"A normal residential hydrant puts out about 500 gallons per minute, and it's good enough to attack a small fire with two to three hand lines," Ebsen said.
"This was an unusual fire, because it was pumping out so many BTUs when we got there," Ebsen said. "When we pulled up, the need for water overwhelmed us at first."
Ebsen said the department's "quint" truck was already on its way to a small shed fire in River Forest. The quint was diverted from that call to Clinton Avenue. The quint features an extension ladder and an aerial hose that can shoot 500 gallons per minute, Ebsen said.
"We couldn't start that quint immediately, because one hydrant was already tapped out. It took time to bring more water to the fire ground from remote hydrants," Ebsen said.
A third engine came from the Lake Street station shortly thereafter. All in all, 11 neighboring communities sent 75 firefighters to the three-alarm call.
Firefighters ended up laying special wide-diameter hose to three other hydrants nearby at Jackson and Clinton, Home and Jackson and on Wenonah, Ebsen said.
"Time is critical in any fire," Ebsen said. "Normally in a typical residential fire, we lay a couple of [tactical] lines and an exposure line, and we can attack the fire right away. In this case the entire building was already burning when we showed up."
Ebsen said water pressure was not a problem with the hydrants, and videos of the fire showing a water stream decreasing were not depicting water pressure problems.
"If one hand line is being switched over to another supply, they have to reduce the water," he said.
Ebsen said he didn't know why the 911 calls, which started coming in at 4:17 a.m., were received after the building had been burning for a while.
"Maybe because it was the time of day, 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning," Ebsen said.
He estimated an investigation into the fire would be completed in the next couple of days. That report is given to the property owner and the insurance company.
This article has been updated to correct that the fire department's quint truck was on its way to a River Forest call.