Two injured in high-rise fire

Monday, November 13, 2006

At least two people were hurt during a fire at a high-rise along Chicago's lakefront Monday morning. Firefighters evacuated a 22-story building at 1400 North Lake Shore Drive on the city's Gold Coast. Now, some people who live there are questioning the building's safety procedures.

Built in 1927, the building is not required to have a sprinkler system or public address system as newer buildings do. However, the property manager says the building does have an emergency notification system and individual units have smoke detectors. But some residents say they heard nothing to warn them of the fire.

Firefighters arrived to find residents evacuating themselves from 1400 North Lake Shore Drive. Some residents say they smelled smoke around 9 a.m. in the high-rise and looked for a way out.

"I never heard a fire alarm. I went to my door and thought, I better check. Of course, it was everywhere," said Amy Wright, resident.

"I smelled like rubber burning. I got in the hallway and the elevator never came," said Patrick North, resident.

"I grabbed the cat, put my jacket on and found a stairwell to come down," said Michael Benjamin, resident.

Firefighters took out two residents -- a woman and a seven-year-old. They were both treated for minor smoke inhalation

Firefighters say they also did 12 well-being checks and searched the stairwells to insure everyone was safe.

Once the fire was out, a preliminary investigation pointed to work in the basement that may have created the fire and smoke throughout the building.

"It appears an accidental fire in the basement with a cutting torch," said Deputy Comm. Bobby Hoff, Chicago Fire Department.

Residents were allowed back in the building a couple of hours later. But some are concerned for their safety.

"Nobody knew where the exit was downstairs. I went down the one exit. They said, 'No, you can't go down there. You have to go down the back exit,'" said Galen Kopfmann, resident.

Residents say the renovations and conversions from rental units to condominiums have made living their uncomfortable and now dangerous.

"I think it is dangerous. It is a new construction building. We have been without heat for two months, three months. I have lived the whole year here through construction," said Dawn, resident.

"You have to be prepared for the possibility this is going to happen. Here we had it happen and no one was prepared," said Jenna Constantine, resident.

The fire department says the building was in compliance with city code and is in the process of installing a building wide public address system, which goes beyond the city requirements. But some residents say, in the meantime, they hope communications improve -- especially when there are dangerous conditions.

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