Fatal High-Rise Fire Occurred in Building That Passed Chicago’s Life Safety Evaluation

Late Saturday night, a 70-year-old man was killed in a fire at the unsprinklered, 21-story residential high-rise located at 300 South Damen in Chicago. The fire occurred while the man, who was using an oxygen tank, was in bed in his unit on the 11th floor of West Point Plaza. Other residents on the floor were displaced due to the fire.

According to the city of Chicago’s Data Portal website, the high-rise building was able to pass the city’s Life Safety Evaluation (LSE) even though the owners chose not to install fire sprinklers. The LSE required all residential high-rise buildings built prior to 1975 that do not have fire sprinklers to pass a City of Chicago Life Safety Evaluation (LSE), but allows buildings to pass with measures other than fire sprinklers.

“This tragic fire is another example of how the city’s LSE leaves residents just as vulnerable in residential high-rises where no fire sprinklers are present,” states Tom Lia, executive director of the nonprofit Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB). “Although the LSE measures aim to avoid the spread of fire from unit to unit, it does nothing to protect the individuals in the unit of a fire’s origin, essentially writing off those residents’ lives.”

Lia says the city’s LSE is a ‘watered down’ version of the state code, the 2000 edition of NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, which was adopted by the Illinois State Fire Marshal in January 2002. Following the Cook County Administration Building fire in 2003, the James Lee Witt Report recommended that all high-rises in Chicago be protected with fire sprinklers.

“The Illinois State Fire Marshal should investigate the building for violations of the state code,” says Tom Lia.

Installing fire sprinklers in a residential high-rise not only provides life- and property protection, but it also leads to other benefits for residents and owners, including reductions in insurance for tenant spaces and common areas. The necessary infrastructure, such as a fire pump and standpipe, is already present in most high-rises, making fire sprinklers a cost-effective solution.

Building owners and associations that are behind deadline on the LSE can still choose to install fire sprinklers and join nearly 100 other residential high-rises that have gone the route of installing fire sprinklers. Buildings are also more marketable to safety conscious residents when they are protected with fire sprinklers.

“There are only two types of residential high-rises in Chicago — those with fire sprinklers and those without fire sprinklers,” says Lia. “To prevent fire injuries and deaths, such as the one last night, residential high-rise owners, residents and prospective buyers must be mindful of the presence or absence of fire safety features, especially fire sprinklers, in their buildings.”

 

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