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Villa Park VFW Fire and Explosion Injures 14

A welding repair job inside the firing range of the Villa Park VFW ignited a fire that quickly escalated and caused an apparent explosion. A total of 14 people were listed on the injured list and 10 people were transported to local hospitals. Two of the the injured were in critical condition and 3 others in serious condition. The remaining injured were in good condition. The fire departments responding transported victims to Good Samaritan in Downers Grove, Elmhurst Hospital and Glen Oaks Hospital in Glendale Heights. Three known victims walked away before they could be evaluated. One victim refused treatment or transportation to the hospital.

The initial call to 911, at just after 6:00 PM, resulted in a General Fire Alarm for a structure fire that involved a large number of Fire Departments responding, including both Engine Companies from Villa Park. Engine 962 from Station 2 on Princeton was the primary and closest unit but was held up on Ardmore Avenue and the Union Pacific railroad tracks by a freight train. The other engine company, Engine 963, from Station 3 on South Ardmore also responded. In addition to the General Alarm, an Ambulance Box Alarm was ordered because there were people trapped inside. There were more than 40 firefighters from at least 9 municipalities and approximately 20 Villa Park Police Officers at the scene.

The injuries to the victims included burns and smoke related injuries. Many of the occupants and firefighters described the smoke as thick and oily, making breathing or visibility extremely difficult. A rough estimate of the number of people inside at the time of the fire and explosion was 75 people, most who were gathering on the main floor for bingo night.

Wayne Beasley who is the Senior Vice Commander of the VFW was inside the firing range monitoring the welding work when the fire started. “The welder was fixing a hole in the back plate of the fire range when the fire started.” Wayne said. He then tried to activate the fire suppression device inside the range but it did little. The two left the firing range and closed the door when there was an apparent explosion. It was not known if the door to the range blew off because smoke had filled the area.

Smoke and heat then traveled to the main floor and to other areas in the basement. For some people inside the exit paths were blocked, including those in the VFW Post office areas. VFW Quartermaster Tom Forbes was effected by the smoke and was taken to the hospital. Junior Vice Commander Sid Bergh was trapped and had to be removed by firefighters through the rear window. Sid was transported to a local hospital with a cut to his right arm and was being given oxygen.

The VFW Post Commander – Dennis Geiseman was on the scene just as the fire departments were arriving. Initially the officer in command was Villa Park Deputy Chief Steve Stapleton who orchestrated the rescue units entering the building. Soon after current Lombard Fire Department Battalion Commander - Ronald Rakosnik took command from a command post vehicle in the parking lot. Rakosnik will be taking over as Villa Park Fire Chief on June 11. He gave a brief update to the reporters on the scene including ABC Channel 7 and the Chicago Tribune.

Firefighters exiting the building reported that the smoke had created extensive damage inside the VFW. Villa Park Lieutenant Dave Trotter was inside along with several other firefighters and was concerned for the victims. Lt. Trotter's bunker gear was covered with an oily mix of dirt and soot as was the gear of most of the firefighters coming out from the basement areas.

Villa Park Police Lieutenant Esposito took command for the Villa Park Police Department along with several detectives and officers who assisted with control of the scene and initial investigations. The Police Department closed St. Charles Road for several hours from Ardmore to Illinois. Traffic was detoured to local streets. The DuPage County Fire Investigation team arrived at the scene to help determine the exact cause of the fire and explosion. At least two Villa Park Fire Department personnel were part of the investigators including Lieutenant Chris Gilliland.

Fire Department and Police Department personnel were on the scene until 11:30 PM. An officer will be stationed at the building overnight. The VFW is closed and will be evaluated to determine when it may be reopened to the public.

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2 comments

  1. @dajodane – Thanks. All of the injured have been released from the hospital. For some the healing will continue.The VFW staff, police officers and firefighter paramedics saved dozens of lives. They did an amazing job, Now the cleanup begins.

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  2. Outstanding photos and coverage. I have not heard any news updates on the injured, I hope everyone survived.

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