NIFSAB Says Chicago is Stalling High-Rise Ordinance

September 29, 2004

The non-profit Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB) believes the Chicago Building Committee’s move to defer the high-rise ordinance at their meeting last week is another stall tactic by the city. During the meeting the commission voted to defer the proposed ordinance for 30 days.

Tom Lia, executive director, Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory
Board, said they were expecting the Building Committee to decide on an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers to be retrofit in high-rise buildings.

Following the Cook County Administration building fire where six people died last October, Mayor Richard Daley and Ald. Edward Burke (14th) introduced separate sprinkler ordinances. Daley’s ordinance requires all commercial buildings be retrofit. It does not include residential buildings and designated landmarks. It gives commercial buildings until 2016 to comply.

Burke’s ordinance requires sprinklers in all high-rise buildings, commercial and residential. Burke’s ordinance requires fire sprinklers to be installed by 2008 and would follow the recommendations of the Chicago High Rise Commission, the Tri-Data Study, FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) “America Burning” report, FEMA’s Residential Initiative, and FEMA’s Life Safety Summit Report 2004 for the protection of firefighters.

“I don’t know why members of the Building Committee need more facts,” Lia said. “Both the City of Chicago and Cook County have invested heavily in studying and analyzing high-rise fires. In the next couple of weeks we expect to hear the same conclusions from the State Fire Report prepared by James Lee Witt. By deferring, the City continues to put people’s lives at risk when they know the facts,” Lia added

Last July, the Cook County Panel released its report following the Cook County high-rise fire. Lia said that report makes it clear: If the Cook County Building had had fire sprinkler protection, six people would be alive today.

Lia said the panel’s final report echoes the Sprinkler Advisory Board’s
position that retrofitting pre-1975 high-rises with automatic fire sprinkler systems would have a major impact on public safety.

More than 800 high-rise buildings in the city reportedly currently stand without the century old, state-of-the-art life safety technology.

Lia said the County Report also confirms the findings from the 1999
Chicago High-Rise Commission Report again stating that fire sprinklers save the lives of occupants and firefighters.

The High-Rise Commission Report stated that the rate of fire deaths in
Chicago’s high-rise buildings is approximately 3.5 times greater than the national average. The commission recommended sprinkler retrofit over a 20-year period. A $400,000 city study by the Tri-Data Company also reportedly recognized the high-rise fire problem and recommended fire sprinkler be retrofit in a 5-10 year phase-in plan.

“Watching the Building Committee pass on the high-rise ordinance this morning reminds me of the City Council deferring the night club ordinance last year,” Lia said referring to Burkes ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in nightclubs with occupancies of 50 or more.

“We have heard nothing about the night club ordinance since last year when it was deferred and hope that these high rise protection ordinances do not meet the same fate.”

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