The Oakland Ghost Ship Fire with 36 fire deaths shows us what can happen when fire codes are not followed. Unfortunately, Chicago has a long list of historic multi-fatality fires that resulted in code changes. Here are just a few: Iroquois Theatre fire (602 deaths), La Salle Hotel fire (58 deaths), Our Lady of the Angels school fire (95 deaths), Paxton Hotel fire (19 deaths) and Wincrest Nursing Home fire (23 deaths).
Ironically, Jan. 1, 2017, is the deadline for the commercial high-rise fire sprinkler retrofit ordinance. All high-rises built before sprinklers were required in the mid-1970s are required to be retrofit. Building owners had a dozen years (three, four-year stages) to get the projects completed. This ordinance was the result of the tragic Cook County Administration fire with six fire deaths in October 2003.
We applaud Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle for retrofitting fire sprinklers in the Cook County Administration Building and former Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel for retrofitting the Daley Center and City Hall.
But what about the other high-rise buildings? Is there 100 percent compliance?
When there is a fire code or ordinance, it needs to be enforced. Otherwise, it is useless and the people are lulled into complacency, thinking they are protected. Chicago needs to be a city with model fire codes and enforcement where all residents, workers, and visitors can reasonably expect not to worry whether they are fire safe as they go about their daily lives. Chicago does not need to add another tragic fire to its list.
Tom Lia, executive director, Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board