Chicago department criticized over high-rise fire

July 08, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CHICAGO - In a report released yesterday, the commission investigating October's deadly high-rise blaze criticized the Chicago Fire Department's methods and said sweeping changes were needed to avert similar tragedies.

The 94-page report said that among other failings, the department sent frantic employees in the Cook County Administration Building to the wrong location, fought the fire from the wrong stairwell, and failed to use an available public address system to communicate with people in the building.

The commission - made up of retired judges - said that on-scene communications were extremely poor.

Six people who were trapped in a stairwell with self-locking doors died of smoke inhalation; dozens of others were injured. Police still are investigating the cause of the fire, which started in a storage area on the 12th floor.

The report made 20 recommendations, including retrofitting all high-rises with sprinkler systems at an estimated cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. When the 35-story administration building was built in 1964, city law did not require sprinklers.

The report also said the Fire Department must work more efficiently with the city's office of emergency management to acquire more up-to-date information at the scene and find better ways for crews to communicate during high-rise fires.

Other recommendations included creating a physical-fitness training program for firefighters, increasing the capacity of the department's air tanks, and conducting complete top-to-bottom searches of high-rise stairwells during fires.

Fire Department officials received a copy of the study yesterday morning, and said they had assembled a team of outside experts to help review the report.

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