Ocean Boulevard fire

A firefighter sprays water into the garage roof at 6615  Ocean Blvd., Bettendorf, last week. The house was declared a loss.


Those who saw it wondered how it could happen.

Several firetrucks, responding to the scene of a house fire in Bettendorf last week, attempted to travel east from Devils Glen Road onto Forest Grove Drive. The roadway has been closed to traffic for seven months.

The first fire engine, belonging to Bettendorf, went around the barricades before the driver realized the roadway was impassable. Two others, responding to calls for mutual aid, also attempted to travel on the closed roadway and had to back out of Forest Grove Drive and double back to Hopewell Avenue, which took them to Middle Road and back onto Forest Grove from the west.

Asked Wednesday whether the delays had any impact on firefighters' ability to battle the blaze in a timely manner, Bettendorf Fire Chief Gerry Voelliger replied, "Absolutely none."

The chief said the vehicles that erroneously attempted to access the scene from Forest Grove were "secondary or third or fourth" in the line of defense, anyway.

The fire at 6615 Ocean Blvd. destroyed the home. However, Voelliger said some of the family's belongings were spared, thanks to the fire department's quick response time.

He provided this timeline of events:

Modern severe-weather software technology indicated a lightning strike within one foot of the home at 9:34 a.m. on May 17. The bolt instantly knocked out cable in the neighborhood.

But it wasn't until an hour and 29 minutes later that the homeowner, smelling and seeing smoke, called 911. The fire department was dispatched at 11:03 a.m.

Voelliger, in his administration vehicle with three others, arrived on scene at 11:11 a.m. Engine 1 followed one minute later. And a minute after that, Truck 2 arrived.

At 11:15 a.m., the chief said, the fire was under control. At the same moment, Engine 2 arrived, having turned around at the construction site on Forest Grove.

The firetruck dispatched from the Rock Island Arsenal arrived at 11:22 a.m., which was seven minutes before the fire was fully extinguished, Voelliger said.

"The point is, these were all late-arriving apparatus," he said. "The fire was under control at that time."

But why did three firetrucks attempt to use a closed road when responding to a structure fire? And why didn't the first engine to encounter the blockage notify the ones behind it to avoid that portion of Forest Grove?

"I advised all units to access off Middle Road," the chief said, adding that he doesn't know why the Riverdale and Arsenal fire departments used that portion of the road, because all the responding crews should have been listening to the same radio channel.

The Bettendorf rig that had to turn around simply was taking a chance that it could get through on Forest Grove, despite the closure.

"With all the construction, it's a very fluid thing," Voelliger said, referring to emergency access during various road-construction projects. "They open, they close."

The road is closed, which is obvious from the detour signs and barricades. Even so, the chief said, road workers have to make it accessible at all times to the people who live along it. In the event of complete closures, such as firefighters encountered there last week, contractors maintain gravel-drive access to residents.

"We have to be prepared for emergency calls and medical calls in those areas, too," Voelliger pointed out. "That's why we have multiple apparatus, and that's why we approach from multiple directions."

In the end, he said, the time of arrival of Bettendorf Engine 2 and the mutual-aid responders would not have made a difference.

Asked whether the home is a total loss as previously reported, the chief replied, "Who knows? With insurance companies, they may decide to tear it down and start new, rather than rebuild.

"Very little of their personal belongings were damaged, because the fire was in the attic and the roof."

So, the water and smoke didn't damage the family's furniture and other property?

"Who knows?" the chief replied. "It looked OK. I'm sure it smelled and got wet.

"Their passports, important documents and family pictures were saved. That was huge."

Though the lightning strike took more than an hour to turn into a blaze, the wood-frame home really took off when the fire got going.

"The insurance inspector was completely amazed we were able to put it out as quickly as we did," Voelliger said. "They all got to the scene quite rapidly."

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com