Faulty valve delayed firefighters in May 4 Oak Park fire

'Worst conditions' in Clinton Ave. fire

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Natural ventilation, a wood balloon-frame home and a load of highly flammable material on the porch created ideal conditions for the rapid escalation of a fire that destroyed one home and severely damaged two others on the 800 block of Clinton Avenue May 4, according to Oak Park Fire Chief Tom Ebsen.

Ebsen told the board and residents at a Village Hall meeting on Monday that suppression of the fire, which broke out on the south half of the front porch at 814 Clinton Ave. at around 4 a.m., also was delayed due to the failure of a fire engine water hose valve on one of the engines. He said that the faulty valve is regularly tested and has since been replaced.

Ebsen said the fire was so intense that firefighters were, "unable to do any interior operations at all."

"In my 34 years of being in the department, [these are] the worst residential fire conditions that I have ever seen, and talking to chiefs who were at the scene, they had expressed similar thoughts to me," Ebsen said.

Despite the delay in use of the water valve, Ebsen dispelled rumors that fire hydrants in the area were unable to supply enough water pressure to adequately fight the fire. 

In a report released Monday, Ebsen noted that the malfunctioning water intake valve on the fire engine required firefighters to "relocate the supply hoses to an alternative intake port on the side of the engine," but added that once accomplished, "the engine had an adequate supply to deliver approximately 500 gallons per minute via multiple hose lines."

Resident John Powers, who lives near the site of the fire, said that the night of the fire he was told by one of the firefighters that the hydrant was only able to provide 28 gallons per minute.

Ebsen said that if that is what he was told, then he was misinformed.

"I don't know where the 28-gallons-per minute comment came from unless (the incident commander) just misspoke," he said.

Ebsen said an upholstered sofa and two stacked planters of dead vegetative material on the porch caused the fire to spread more quickly. He also noted in the report that the style of the home built in 1908 – with a wood porch, wood exterior siding and a structural wood frame built in the balloon-frame style typical for the era – also led to the rapid spread of the fire.

A wind from the west-northwest, combined with open windows in the front of the home and open doors in the rear, created natural ventilation, Ebsen said.

Since the fire broke out early in the morning, there was no one awake to detect it, allowing it to spread further, the report noted. Had the fire taken place during the day, it might have been reported at an earlier stage, he said.

The fire department still has not determined the cause of the fire because evidence was destroyed in the blaze, Ebsen said. The department's three hypotheses include an electrical outlet on the exterior wall of the front porch, discarded smoking material or vandalism.

Ebsen said the electrical outlet was located behind the sofa, and although residents say nothing was plugged in, old wiring can create high resistance and cause nearby material to catch fire.

The report notes that vandalism and smoking material are being considered as potential causes "because it was an open, unsecured front porch."

Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Posted: May 20th, 2014 1:41 PM

To my knowledgeIi have never seen or heard that they DID NOT have insurance?

Have a heart  

Posted: May 20th, 2014 11:48 AM

And I'm sure they regret not having the insurance. It brightens my day to see people being kind and wanting to help instead of passing judgment.


Posted: May 20th, 2014 8:59 AM

If someone has enough resources to send their child(ren) to a school that costs $11,000/ yr, yet doesnt see it necessary to fully insure themselves at a reasonable 200/ yr, its hard to get my arms around that. They were renters of the home, not homeowners hence the 200/ yr cost.

Lisa from Forest Park  

Posted: May 20th, 2014 8:47 AM

@Underinsured - The donation page was originally started by a high school sophomore trying to help a friend. I am sure she had no idea of the gravity of the situation or how much was truly needed.

Dan Haley Comment???? from Oak Park  

Posted: May 19th, 2014 6:36 PM

Dan? No comment on this issue? You're usually a big anti fire department guy. Awfully quiet in the peanut gallery.

Insured from Oak Park  

Posted: May 19th, 2014 6:33 PM

When you have no insurance and you lose everything. No amount is enough. $1000 might cover a couple pairs of jeans, shoes, socks, and shirts for 4 people.


Posted: May 19th, 2014 5:07 PM

They were originally asking for only $1,000. They have since raised almost $14,000. Was the original amount too low or have they exceeded their expectations by alot?

Sea Foam  

Posted: May 16th, 2014 4:05 PM

While everyone debates this issue for the long term for there own safety concerns, there is an immediate need of at least one misplaced family. Just think if it was you! They lost EVERYTHING including 2 pets, Thank God they got out alive! If you want to help this family out please consider making a donation that will help them start to recover. http://www.oakparkfire.com/

Enough Firefighters? from Oak Park  

Posted: May 16th, 2014 9:37 AM

I would simply like enough firefighters to put fires out. I don't want my house to burn down. My house is worth the cost of paying the fire chief to have enough firemen working. I can't replace pictures and family heirlooms. If the fire chief says we need more...... He's the fire chief and should be listened to. He is the EXPERT.

Not gonna happen  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 9:56 PM

Would u like pension contributions or more bodies?

Enough Firefighters? from Oak park  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 5:23 PM

The fire chief said at the board meeting if the village would staff more firefighters, they could've had more hoses on the fire sooner? Will the village look at going back to the staffing levels before the recession? I'm one that would be more comfortable with more protection in my town. If the fire chief says we need more people, we probably need more people.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 5:11 PM

OPFD is one of the finest around. I would put them up to any Dept in the area. 1st rate dept doing a 1st rate job. Thanks. ...........and dont forget, you were the 1st to suggest someone be concerned.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 3:20 PM

Not concerned - after tense hours of work, the firefighter had to have been exhausted, yet he was very pleasant and patient in answering various questions. Multiple people asked the question you are dismissing as nonsense. He gave an answer, whether he misspoke or not, it raised other rational questions. All of the FD and Police folks on hand were credits to their dept. and the fire chief did an excellent job of explaining this and other issues.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 2:54 PM

Not concerned - yup, every neighbor, many/most of whom were outside around 4:30 and could see one truck struggling with water, which is why the firefighter was asked a very logical question afterward by multiple people. Reread the comments in the original article - www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/5-4-2014/3-Oak-Park-houses-damaged-in-early-a.m.-blaze/ this was definitely not one person's issue. Unless you are making it yours?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 1:00 PM

Personally, I appreciated the hour-long discussion that occurred at the Village Board meeting on Monday regarding the fire because there was a lot to be learned. Most notably, how wooden houses in Oak Park are constructed. That should be a major concern for such homeowners and their neighbors. Hopefully this will move people to action regarding fire *prevention*, since we now see that fighting such a fire is futile.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 12:48 PM

Every neighbor? People were asleep. It was 4 am? Please. Can't agree with the "all the neighbors were concerned" argument. It seems one person was concerned and blew it out of proportion and context. Instead of creating misinformation in the comment section, why didnt you wait until you heard what the chief said?

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 10:28 AM

Not concerned - understanding what was going on with that hydrant/truck was of major concern to every neighbor. Don't take my word for it, ask around. The village properly addressed the question. Why are you so dismissive of a reasonable question everyone had?

Not concerned  

Posted: May 15th, 2014 9:29 AM

This discussion was nonsense from the beginning when a particular person brought it up, again and again in the comments section. IMHO

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 11:40 AM

The fireman never mentioned the truck being an issue, had he, then no hydrant question. He pointed at the hydrant and said he was only getting 28 gal per minute. If he misspoke, so be it. The only reason we even asked him about the hydrant was because that truck was not used in the early minutes, that was evident to anyone there. I would guess Chief Ebsen has since asked him about his comment. The chief did a fine job explaining why water was an obvious issue for that truck early on.

to not concerned  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 11:25 AM

Everyone either wants the credit or places the blame. Shameful.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 10:26 AM

Chief Ebsen said, "I don't know where the 28 gallons per minute came from. It could have been that the engineer mentioned that he had 28 PSI at the pump panel. That is a whole lot different than 28 gallons per minute. 28 gallons per minute is not a flow that is even hardly measurable by our gauges."

Not concerned  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 10:02 AM

Clearly it wasnt 28 GPM. Anyone looking at the water flow coming out of the hoses could see that! Sorry.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 9:08 AM

The "1000 gal per minute" referred to water supplied to the truck on Jackson.

tons of experts everywhere from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 9:07 AM

Not concerned - at least 3 of us talking with the fireman heard him say that the hydrant produced "28 gal per minute", in contrast they were getting "1000 gal per minute". Those were his exact words heard firsthand, not my opinion. He said nothing about the valve.

Not concerned  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 12:38 AM

Hate to say it, but I told ya so

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