Fire fighters struggled with water supply in Oak Park blaze

'Unusual' fire required more than one hydrant: Chief


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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.

Reader Comments

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Carol from Homewood  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 11:45 PM

Someone asked if there was anything they can do to help. This family has lost everything. There is a fundraiser at Dugans on Halsted on May 23 at 7:00 pm. or there is a help site set up to help them rebuild their lives.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 5:06 PM

Not concerned - hydrants on 800 Clinton were tested this week, take a wild guess what the result was for the hydrant in question (middle hydrant of 3 on the block). The final fire dept report should document this issue.

Concerned Citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 4:28 PM

I think this video with timeline tells the tale. You can clearly hear the firemen shout, "We need more water". Let's get to the bottom of this.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 12:11 PM

Not concerned - you keep commenting without supporting your statements. Once again, the fireman who coordinated the effort from in front of the house told several of us, firsthand, the hydrant in question gave "28 gal per minute". He said that was in contrast to 1000 gal per minute coming off Jackson, presumably directly off the main line. Explain your self please.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 11:46 AM

28 gallons a minute is 100% inaccurate.

interesting listen  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 11:11 PM Interesting, controlled chaos, questions about pressure and "wishing we could get a little more water" Just observing, not judging....

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 9:10 PM

@ Not concerned - it is accurate. There were many witnesses to the deficient hydrant. I was among them. There was no video in the early minutes from the Clinton side of the house. Per the chief, the hydrant was expected to deliver 500 gal per minute, per the fireman supervising the effort it gave 28 gal per minute, I heard him firsthand. Where are you drawing yoru conclusion from, please specify.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 3:18 PM

That is incorrect.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 2:32 PM

@Not concerned - were you there? The video was not taken during the initial stages when the firemen were attempting to get water from a non performing hydrant. Other sources were tapped over time as more equipment arrived. During the crucial early minutes a key source of water failed. Had that hydrant performed per specs (500 gal per minute per the chief vs 28 actually supplied per on site supervisor) it may not have prevented more damage, but it may have helped minimize it.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 11:11 AM

The video clearly shows great water pressure coming from 3 to 4 sources. Might be multiple hydrants. No need to be concerned. OPFD is one of, if not, the best FD around.

Concerned citizen from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 9:39 AM

The firefighter I spoke with at the scene stated that they were only getting 28 gallons per minute from the mid block hydrant. That's the story that needs investigating.


Posted: May 6th, 2014 5:36 AM

it is amazing to see (from video)how much water was being pumped onto the house and the fire was still blazing. glad that nobody was hurt.

mary from Forest Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 12:37 AM

Anyone interested in helping the Jaffe family, who lost EVERYTHING in this horrible fire, can go to

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:42 PM

Jean, thank you for answering the questions posted here. Much appreciated.

Jean Lotus from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:31 PM

@Denton, According to dispatch recordings, the call was broadcast at 4:19 a.m. and fire fighters were responding from the scene at 4:22 a.m.

MichaelO from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:25 PM

!!!BENGHAZI!!! Why can't I get the emoticons to work?

Tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:55 PM

Drama mama - "the story" is wrong, if you weren't there, why repeat it? The house was not consumed by the time the first firemen were on site, though the fire was fast moving and the house was consumed not long after they were. I walked outside at 4:36, two trucks were on site, one spraying, the other not. Response time for the first on the scene was not an issue, the hydrant clearly was.

Brian Slowiak from Westchester  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:11 PM

@Jean: Thanxs. In police work we were cautioned never to use police jargon when speaking to or with the public, or court testimony.

Bystander from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:00 PM

The video featured with the article displays an appropriate full force effort to distinguish the fire. Unfortunately, it took a significant amount of time before that full force effort was executed.

Jean Lotus from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: May 5th, 2014 5:22 PM

@Brian Slowiak, by "tapped out" the fire chief meant the hydrant already had the maximum number of hoses attached, so all of the water--at the correct pressure--was already flowing through the hose. By hooking up three other hydrants, the firefighters could get more water on the flames. Chief Ebsen specifically said there was nothing wrong with the water pressure.

Denton from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 5:20 PM

I heard it took 20 minutes for first truck to arrive after the 4:17am 911 call? Is that appropriate?

Brian Slowiak from Westchester  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 5:09 PM

What is a "tapped out" fire hydrant? If one hydrant is "tapped out" during the early morning hours when pressure should be high and demand low, how does going to another hydrant, except to gain a different access to the fire help? Aren"r all hydrants supplied pressure water and pressure from the same pumping station? Just asking.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:41 PM

The headline does not match the details of the story.

Drama Mama  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:35 PM

Struggle with water supply?? Maybe we could put hydrants every other home?!?!? The story is that the house was fully consumed by the time the first responders were notified.

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