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Big Condo Fire Draws Many Fire Departments

Residents could see flames shooting out windows of upper floor; days later, some units are still uninhabitable. Photos by Fdphotounit.

Twenty fire departments, from as far away as Highland Park, responded Sunday when a multiple-alarm condo fire broke out in Park Ridge. About 30 residents had to be evacuated during the blaze in the four story building, which left significant property damage.

Park Ridge firefighters got the first alarm at 10:50 a.m. and responded to the blaze at 500 Thames Parkway, in the Bristol Court condo complex on Talcott Road, near Maine South High School.

Seeing smoke and fire, they placed a MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) alarm, said Jeff Sorensen, deputy chief of the Park Ridge Fire Department. This second alarm drew additional fire departments, with their equipment, to the scene. Sorensen was one of two in the command post at the time.

"Youre judging it on where this thing is going and what resources are available," he said.

They placed another alarm, for EMS services, which brought more ambulances to the scene in case victims had to be treated.

The fire originated in the bedroom of a top-floor unit, Sorensen said, possibly near a television and cable box. The fire got into the mansard roof and went up, he said.

Firefighters fought the fire on the building's interior, while other units used hook and ladder equipment to fight the fire on the exterior mansard in the rear of the building, according to the department's website. Still other fire-fighting units went through the building's interior to check for and evacuate residents.

As of Wednesday, five units were still uninhabitable, and Sorensen guessed it may be a month or more until the unit where the fire started can be made habitable. No injuries were reported.

"The thing that benefitted us the most was the time of day, and the fact the building had a fire alarm," Sorensen said. About half the residents were not home at the late morning hour.

"What worked against us was the building's fire alarm system," he added, explaining that as many as 30 minutes could have passed from the time the fire started in the condo unit until the smoke reached the fire detectors in the hallways.

The smoke alarms in the units, which are battery operated, are only helpful to the people in the unit-and then, only if they're home, he said.

"It takes time for smoke to get past a closed doorway," he noted.

Regarding the significant size of the fire, Sorensen said, "We probably only have a few box alarm fires a year. I can't even recall the last time it went to a second alarm."

Fire departments which responded to the blaze include: Glenview, Northbrook, Des Plaines, Winnetka, Highland Park, Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, North Maine, Elk Grove, River Grove, Buffalo Grove, Lincolnwood, Schiller Park, Rosemont, Norwood Park, Northlake, Prospect Heights.

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Larry Johnston February 17, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Another prime reason to install Automatic Fire Sprinklers. Especially in multi-family housing.

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