State fire code violations prompt confusion

January 19, 2012 3:06:09 PM PST
As family and friends gathered for the funeral of a woman who died in a Lakeview high-rise fire, the building's management was cited for numerous fire code violations.

Shantel McCoy, 32, died on January 8 during a fire in her apartment building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive. Her funeral was held Thursday at Triumph Baptist Church in Philadelphia. McCoy's casket was surrounded by an array of flowers. The young woman was remembered for her intelligence and ambition during the service.

Planned Property Management owns the North Lake Shore Drive building where McCoy died. While the company has not been cited by the City of Chicago, the state fire marshal has issued the building owners 19 code violations. The latest action is leaving city building managers and owners confused on what their legal responsibility is when it comes to following codes.

The building is in the city of Chicago so its owners follow Chicago code. But the Illinois fire marshal says when it comes to fire safety, state code trumps city, which is why the fire marshal cited the building with a laundry list of violations, including the lack a fire alarm system, automatic elevator recall and an automatic sprinkler system.

"It's interesting to say the least that now all of sudden they do this when they know the City of Chicago has this extension to get the work done for several years," said Thomas Skweres, president, Apartment Building Owners and Managers Association of Illinois (ABOMA).

The City of Chicago has given older high-rises a three-year extension to retrofit buildings with modern fire safety equipment, which includes the most costly addition, a sprinkler system, something that state law already requires. But Chicago's home rule means city code is what is enforced.

Which code to follow is a tough question to answer for fire safety consultant Mike McMahon. "The city code is very confusing...buildings are confused of what to do," he told ABC7.

Skweres says he will advise his members to stay the course. "I think we are going to take the position to follow the city code until someone tells us differently," he said.

The state fire marshal says the state fire code is the minimum fire code that must be met by all Illinois municipalities, including home rule municipalities.

McMahon says while building owners are trying to figure out the code system, the quickest and cheapest action they can take is educating residents on fire safety.