Teen hockey players hailed as heroes in stopping Park Ridge fire
Harrison Moore and four high school hockey teammates were heading home to Park Ridge from practice in Franklin Park Monday night when the 15-year-old spotted something out of the ordinary as the houses along North Dee Road flashed by in the darkness.
"I was looking out the window and saw a fire," said Moore, a student at Maine South High School. "I thought it was a campfire."
But a closer look revealed the flames were burning right outside the window of an attached garage and rising up to threaten the home's roof.
Harrison and his teammates sprang into action, calling 911, alerting the home's owners and then helping them keep the flames at bay until firefighters arrived to finish the job.
Now his eagle eye and the quick reaction of his Maine Hockey JV2 teammates are earning them praise as heroes by homeowners Linda and Paul DiFranco, as well as the Park Ridge Fire Department.
"This would have lit up like a Christmas tree," Linda DiFranco said of the home's roof, where flames were headed before the teens intervened. "That would have gone up and it would have been the whole house on fire within minutes."
After Harrison spotted the fire at about 9:36 p.m., driver John Spatz, 17, pulled over at the next side street five houses up the road. The five boys -- all Maine South classmates -- sprinted back to the DiFranco home.
Kyle Stinnett, 15, who joined the carpool that night, called 911. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Devin Schult was the first to reach the door and started banging on it and shouting.
Inside, Linda DiFranco was in the laundry room while her husband was in the living room, unaware of the fire outside. When Paul DiFranco opened the door, 16-year-old Joseph Reda gradually recognized why he had a familiar face.
"I thought ... that's my orthodontist!" Joseph said, recognizing DiFranco.
Reda and his teammates assisted the DiFrancos as they grabbed what help was immediately available -- she a fire extinguisher from the garage and he a garden hose from the opposite side of the house.
Linda DiFranco said she emptied the entire extinguisher into the flames. The fire appeared to go out, but started to reignite soon after, leaving the garden hose as the next best option.
Park Ridge Fire Lt. Kevin Plach said the fire was largely out by the time firefighters arrived, leaving them the task of making certain it was extinguished and the house was safe.
Best of all, he had no criticism for the well-organized division of labor the five boys instinctively came up with to address the danger they'd stumbled upon.
"It was one of the best things you could do," Plach said. "It turned out well."
Paul DiFranco said he immediately suspected from its location that the fire had something to do with oilcloths and other equipment stored there for the night by painters who had been working on the outside of the house.
Plach said that while the exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined, polyurethane paints on rags can oxidize and spontaneously ignite given time if packed together or otherwise disposed of improperly. It's still unknown whether an electrical outlet near the bundled cloths also may have played a role, he said.
As a fire can double in size every minute, Plach said he couldn't guess what the impact on the house would have been if the boys hadn't helped get an early start on the fight.
But Paul DiFranco noted that his car with a full tank of gas was parked in the garage next to where the fire started.
"We were really lucky," he said.
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