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Fire tragedy in high rise without sprinklers

January 19th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

A young woman lost her life in Chicago recently during a fire.  The fire began in a unit in a high rise apartment building, the residents fled the fire but left the door open so one of their pets could escape, the unsuspecting woman took the elevator up to the floor where the fire had spread, and was overcome as soon as the doors opened up.  The building did not have sprinklers, a fire alarm system or an automatic recall elevator system according to ABC news in Chicago.  The City of Chicago had delayed forcing older building to conform to the fire code by extending the time for compliance in its ordinance.  In an interesting development, the State Fire Marshal cited the building owner for 19 violations of the fire code including the above violations which violate the Life Safety Code.  Building owners are now arguing that they are confused over which law to follow.  The State of Illinois has adopted the Life Safety Code as its state code.  Chicago has home rule powers but that doesn’t exempt buildings from following state law unless state law grants such a waiver.  Unfortunately, Illinois is  hodgepodge of laws.  We don’t have a state building code.  Local governments basically adopt whatever they deem proper for the locale though most of the cities and villages I know of do adopt the Life Safety Code in addition to the IFC as their local ordinances.  The caselaw in this area uses a balancing test weighing the cost of the upgrades versus the safety of the public.  The safety of the public usually prevails which is why owners can be forced to retrofit their buildings. We know what prevents loss of life in fires but the outcry from building owners that delay upgrades due to the cost too often results in loss of life.


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