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A Day After Loop Fire, Questions Remain About Building Response

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Loop Bank Fire

A fire broke out Sunday afternoon at the Bank of America at Dearborn and Washington streets downtown. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The Sunday afternoon fire at a Loop bank high-rise was a small fire, but response to it was massive.

The flames never got a chance to spread because firefighters got there so fast.  Monday, however, some who fled the building are questioning the building’s evacuation measures.

By most accounts, there were barely two dozen people inside 33 North Dearborn St. On a weekday, thousands can be inside the 25-story high-rise. 

Some of those escorted out from the higher floors by fire rescue crews tell a confusing story about smelling smoke and waiting for an emergency announcement — announcements that they say never came.

“I don’t know why the smoke was pouring through the ventilation system on 21, more than on other floors, ” said Marcy Twardak.

Her office building was shut down for repairs, but the legal administrator is running one of the city’s leading law firms from a Lexus parked just outside.

Sunday’s dramatic fire that broke out in the first floor Bank of America Branch sent huge plumes of smoke to the 21st floor offices of Corboy & Demetrio.  That’s where law clerk Stephanie Sainsbury and two painters smelled smoke. They called 911 and were told to stay put until  help could arrive.

But the group reports never hearing any announcements about the emergency, even though a drill two weeks ago suggested they should.

Michael McMahon, a fire safety expert at SFPC & Associates, says the building’s size requires it to have an evacuation plan.

But there is no law or regulation requiring who should make the first safety announcements: the building’s security staff or the firefighters when they arrive .

McMahon says it creates a confusing gray area.

In a statement, the building’s management, Lincoln Property Co., said: “All systems functioned properly and building policies and procedures were followed without incident.” 

The fact that some claim to have heard no emergency announcement is still under investigation.

At least three people inside were concerned because they heard no fire alarms. By law, however, alarms are not supposed to sound. Fire experts say that could cause confusion and panic. Instead, it’s the announcements and instructions that are supposed to guide workers to safety. 

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

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