Doorman alone on hot seat after Hancock fire

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Doorman alone on hot seat after Hancock fire
A November 2015 fire at the John Hancock building gutted an entire floor halfway up the tower.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A November 2015 fire at the John Hancock building gutted an entire floor halfway up the tower. Building fire systems didn't work and many residents are still angry, especially about the treatment of one man.

"Loved the job, loved the people. Enjoyed getting up every day going to work," said Frank Long, former Hancock doorman.

Long was four months shy of his 30th anniversary at the Hancock.

On Nov. 21, 2015, a candle too close to some bedding in an apartment started on fire. The resident called doorman Long and asked for maintenance to bring up a fire extinguisher.

Long says he was following these "emergency instructions for doormen", and called security, management and maintenance. The document says to then call 9-1-1 if "the emergency seems to be of a serious or life threatening issue."

Long says he didn't call 9-1-1 because the resident made the fire sound small.

But then, the Hancock's fire safety systems didn't work.

"Not a single alarm, not a single announcement anywhere," said Dr. John Whapham, a resident.

"We have a panel in the lobby and when we have a fire, the panel goes off. I didn't hear the panel and the two maintenance men didn't hear the panel and the people in the lobby didn't hear the panel go off," Long said.

Not so, say Sudler Property Management officials, who claim the panel and the alarm did work although they not in the building that Saturday.

Long says he instructed residents to stay in their units and put towels under their doors. Still, some people were trapped in smoke-filled hallways and stairwells, uncertain of what was happening.

Soon after the fire, Sudler issued new emergency rules for doormen to sign, more explicitly requiring them to first call 9-1-1 in any fire or smoke situation.

Then, just before Christmas, Long says he was fired.

"She said 'Frank, the board said that since you didn't call 9-1-1 that you put the residents lives in danger and you should be terminated.' They using me as a scapegoat and trying to get out as less as possible," Long said.

Hancock management gave him a document to sign saying he was resigning.

"I was assuming that I was signing a paper saying I was fired so I could get my unemployment," Long said.

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the Hancock states Long was "fired" for "lack of work."

"Frank Long was a wonderful man," said Dennis Kmetz, a resident.

"To fire someone the way they fired Frank Long and the humiliation they caused that man is, it's just wrong," said Thom Jenkins, a resident.

"I was not happy when they did this to him. It was not his fault," said Ruth Hosek, a resident.

Nearly 200 Hancock condo owners signed a petition saying what happened to Long was wrong and that they want him back on the job. Neither residents nor Long has heard a response.

Sudler told the ABC7 I-Team in a statement that they are "not at liberty to discuss personnel matters."

Now, the Hancock Homeowners Association wants Long to sign a settlement agreement; withdraw his union grievance and EEOC complaint in exchange for some pay and they won't block his unemployment benefits. Even as that plays out, there are serious questions about fire safety in the Hancock building.

Tonight on ABC7 at 10PM: The I-Team investigates what went wrong at the iconic tower and why some residents still fear for their safety.