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‘Big Mo’ brought in to fight rekindled warehouse fire

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Updated: January 24, 2013 7:24PM

As the fire crackled back to life amid blackened and shattered timbers inside a giant Bridgeport warehouse Thursday morning, firefighters rolled out the big guns.

No one snickered, though, when “Big Mo” — a tiny, 1960s-era fire truck that looked like it belonged in a museum — rolled into position across the street from the warehouse at 37th and South Ashland, site of one the biggest blazes in recent memory.

“The only way to deal with this fire is to flood it out,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford. “You’ve got a lot of (spaces) ... that the water is having a problem getting to from above. So we’re going to try to shoot in from the side, and with massive amounts, just force the water in to get to the scene of the fire and put it out.”

No one could recall Thursday the last time Big Mo — technically, a “deluge unit” — had been deployed at a city fire. But as the truck’s stinky diesel engine rattled, Big Mo appeared to do its job perfectly. Three4-inch hoses connected to inlets at the rear of the truck pumped water through twin “turret guns” aimed at the brick warehouse, which went up in flames Tuesday night.

The water jets, arcing across an overpass, blasted away the ice hanging from what remained of the warehouse’s broken-out window frames.

“It’s operating just fine — like it was supposed to do,” said Chicago Fire Cmdr. Dan Swift, sipping black coffee from a Styrofoam cup. “It’s the largest fire we’ve had in a long time. So you’ve got to bring out everything you’ve got.”

The turret guns, pumping out a combined 2,500 gallons of water a minute, made the traditional snorkels and tower ladders look like garden hoses.

Tuesday night, more than 170 firefighters battled the five-alarm blaze — a fire that could be seen from miles away. Thursday morning, after the fire flared up again, some 50 firefighters — working in searingly cold weather — continued to douse the flames. It could be “days” before the fire is extinguished, and perhaps longer still to figure out what caused the blaze, Langford said.

On Thursday, the warehouse — bearded in thick ice — was in danger of collapse.

“A lot of concern about collapse,” Langford said. “As the water goes on and more ice is formed, it becomes more and more unstable. The weight of the ice is pulling on the structure.”

As Big Mo continued to flood the warehouse Thursday afternoon as part of a strategy firefighters call a “surround and drown,” Langford was just glad to have the relic on hand.

“It’s the last of a generation of big plumbing vehicles,” Langford said. “For the most part, they’ve outlived their usefulness. But we keep one around just in case we need it, and today we need it.”

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