Elevator fire death raises concerns for older bldgs.

January 10, 2012 4:49:27 AM PST
Officials say updated safety equipment could have saved the life of a 32-year-old woman killed when an elevator continued to operate during a fire.

Shantel McCoy came home to 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive just as the first 911 call was placed early Sunday morning reporting a fire. She rode it up to the 12th floor, where the doors opened and she was overcome. Her body was found in the elevator opening.

McCoy would still be alive if the building had been updated with an alarm system that disables the elevator during a fire or smoke, according to the Chicago Fire Department. Built before 1975, the 21-story building did not have sprinkler system either.

Retrofitting older building is easier said than done, according to Apartment Building Owners and Managers Association (ABOMA).

"Every building is a bit different so I can't give you a cost. It is a financial burden, it is a lot of money particularly if you are pre-1975," Tom Skweres, ABOMA, said.

Skweres says the most costly and hardest to install is a sprinkler system.

"You have to run piping in hallways, ceilings, there's going to be not only a mechanical, such as piping in the units, but decorating, putting plaster back," Skweres said.

The cost is what led 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney to co-sponsor an ordinance giving building owners three more years to comply with the city's safety requirements, outlined by the Life Safety Ordinance. Originally, January 1, 2012, was the deadline for the older buildings to make the upgrades.

"Hopefully this will be a wakeup to some people," Dave Sheehan, who lives in the high rise, said.

"Hopefully this will inspire other buildings to get up to speed where they should be," Alyssa Horner, who also lives at 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive, said.

The owner of 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive, Planned Property Management, had no comment. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel is urging the owners of old buildings to move fast.

"I don't expect you to wait until the end. I expect you to implement now," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

At the direction of the mayor, a letter is being sent to every building that must comply with the Life Safety Ordinance to upgrade their buildings as a soon as possible. The city's building department does not have an exact number of how many buildings have already complied. Although, the industry says it may be between 10 and 20 percent.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined, but the CFD said it spread quickly because the couple who lived in the burning apartment propped open a door with a rug so their pets could escape. According to the Chicago Building Department, 3130 had no outstanding building code violations.