Fire Sprinkler Advisory Group Billboard Notes High-Rise Fire Safety Concerns

January 6, 2004

The Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board is using a billboard to send a strong message to people who live and work in high-rise buildings.

The billboard, located at Grand and LaSalle, states that a high-rise without fire sprinklers is not a place to live or work. Too often it’s a place to die. It includes a photo of the Cook County Administration Building with smoke billowing out of the windows.

“Fire safety is a very serious issue, it’s not a topic to be coy about. We want people to get the message, especially those who live in high-rise buildings,” said Tom Lia, executive director, Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB). “People who live in high-rise buildings without fire sprinklers need to understand that they are at greater risk of dying if there is a fire in their building.”

More than 800 Chicago high-rise buildings reportedly are currently not protected with fire sprinkler systems because they were constructed before the 1975 City of Chicago Municipal Code requiring fire sprinkler systems.

Following the deadly fire at the Cook County Administration Building in October where six people died, Alderman Edward M. Burke (14th) introduced an ordinance requiring all Chicago high-rise buildings built before the 1975 ordinance to be retrofit with a fire sprinkler system. Mayor Richard Daley introduced an alternative ordinance that excludes residential buildings unless the building does not pass the Life Safety Evaluation System review. Daley’s ordinance requires commercial high-rise buildings to be retrofit with fire sprinkler systems.

The billboard will be displayed throughout the month of January. The Chicago Building Committee is scheduled to hear testimony regarding the ordinances Jan. 16th and 28th. The Chicago City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Feb. 6th.

“It’s vital that Chicago passes a sprinkler ordinance that does include residential high-rise buildings,” Lia said. Citing the National Fire Protection Association’s “High-Rise Building Fires” Report (November, 2003), Lia said the record shows most high-rise building fires and associated losses occur in apartment buildings.

“If you look at the high-rise fires that occurred over the last few years here in Chicago, people died in residential high-rise fires. Excluding residential buildings in the ordinance would be a deadly mistake.”

Lia said building owners and managers should understand that retrofitting a high-rise could result in significant insurance savings. According to Lia, when a building is retrofit, the insurance discounts can range from 20 percent to 60 percent in common areas. Occupants can also receive a 5 percent to 20 percent reduction in fire insurance rates.

According to the Chicago High-Rise Commission Report, the rate of fire deaths in Chicago’s high-rise buildings is approximately 3.5 times greater than the national average. Residential buildings are at greatest risk: 86 percent of all Chicago high-rise fires were in residential structures, and approximately 85 percent of those buildings did not have sprinklers.

“We hope people will see the billboard and let their building managers and owners and elected officials know that they support Alderman Burke’s ordinance,” Lia added. “It’s important to retrofit all high-rise buildings, both commercial and residential, to protect occupants and firefighters.”

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