Landmark fire ordinance passes in Chicago

Proposal, stalled for more than one year, to become law after devastating fire in high-rise building
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Saturday, January 1, 2005

CHICAGO - The Chicago Building Committee has approved an ordinance that requires all commercial high-rise buildings to have fully installed sprinkler systems by 2016, with at least one-third of each building updated every four years starting this month. But the measure leaves out any such requirement for residential buildings.

The passage came just one week after a devastating fire last month at the LaSalle Bank building and 60 weeks after a fatal fire at the Cook County Administration Building. Both buildings did not have sprinkler systems and are high rises, which is defined in Chicago as structures more than 80 feet tall.

“Obviously we would have liked to have residential first,” said Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. However, the impact of the ordinance will be lasting, he said. “I think it will make the trend for the country.”

Lia is a major proponent of the ordinance, and he had called for it to be passed after the fire at the Cook County building. Lia believes that adoption of an ordinance for all high-rises met resistance in the past due to misinformation about the cost of retrofitting existing buildings and installing fire systems in new buildings.

“We think now we’ll see proper installation cost,” he said. “When they see ease of installation and the cost, all the negative issues will go away.”

The new law closes a loophole that has been in existence since a similar ordinance passed in 1975. That ordinance calls for all buildings within the city built after the passage date to include sprinkler installations or compartmentalized. But it exempted those structures deemed landmarks.

“We support Mayor Daly’s sprinkler ordinance,” said Rosa Escareno, assistant director of media affairs, Chicago Fire Department. “It’s certainly a step in the right direction by providing sprinklers in commercial high rises to protect the safety of Chicagoans.”

At the LaSalle building, at 135 South LaSalle St., a fire broke out on the 29th floor. At the city-owned Cook County building, a fire started on the 12th floor and resulted in the death of six.