I-Team: Questions remain after water tank collapse

August 1, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Chicago's skyline is dotted with the old rooftop water towers, a part of the city's history overlooked, or taken for granted until Wednesday's accident.

But questions remain more than 24 hours after the tank came tumbling down. Among them: What caused it to fall on a calm weather day and what about the safety of the other towers still in place?

"It looks like a tornado came by and took it. It's pretty bad," said Isak Klilcic, Ridge Construction and Plumbing.

There was no twister-or even high winds when the tank fell off the roof of the 120-year old Brewster Building. We've all seen these after-pictures.

Thursday night, the I-Team has obtained before-photos of the wooden water tank when it was still in place atop the Brewster before the accident.

Photos from the archives of a Chicago Architecture website show different views of the water tank, the structure from a time when building water supplies and fire suppression were handled by rooftop tanks. Some buildings, including the Brewster, still dependent on the tanks for plumbing use and inspected by the city building department.

"We pay condo fees and do what the city tells us to do," said Brewster resident Jaime Garcia-Anoveros. "I see (inspectors) coming regularly. It's discussed at condo meetings, no sign anything was wrong, lots of inspections always spending money when they tell us to."

Rooftop water tanks are still visible on vintage buildings in Chicago, 153 citywide according to building records. It is unclear how many are actually in residential use or reserved for fire protection. They are inspected every five years by the city during regular fire escape inspections.

The cylinder that fell was last inspected in 2010 and failed according to records, but passed re-inspection a few months later.

Chicago Building Department officials say they haven't decided whether to begin inspections of all the other tanks in the city.

Because many of them are perched on city historical landmarks, the water tanks can't just be demolished. The city has a 90-day waiting period for tank demolition permits so that preservation-or repurposing can be looked at.

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