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Deadly Lake Shore Drive Fire Raises Doubts About High-Rise Safety

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Lake Shore Drive Fire

The scene after a deadly fire in the high-rise at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. early Sunday. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A fire this month that killed a woman in a Lake Shore Drive high-rise is drawing renewed attention to the question of the safety of such buildings.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, the fire broke out just after 2 a.m. on Jan. 8, in the 21-story rental apartment building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. – the southwest corner of Lake Shore Drive West and Briar Place.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

Twelfth floor resident Shantel McCoy, 32, died in the fire when she unwittingly got on an elevator to her floor, where the fire broke out, and was greeted by intense heat and smoke. Nine others, including two firefighters, were injured. Most of the residents were asleep when the fire broke out.

Safety standards for high-rise buildings were made significantly stricter after an infamous fire on Oct. 17, 2003, at what was then known as the Cook County Administration Building, at 69 W. Washington St. downtown.

Six people were killed in that fire when they found themselves trapped in a smoky when the doors locked behind them.

The ordinance that followed in 2004 required all high-rises built before a 1975 fire ordinance to set up voice communication systems, sprinkler systems or other suppression mechanisms, and fireproofing to protect stairwells and openings on balconies or vestibules. The ordinance ordered these changes by Jan. 1 of this year.

But aldermen recently voted to push back the mandate another three years.

Now, a Chicago Tribune analysis of city records has that of the 700 high-rises affected by the ordinance, 369 have not even submitted plans to meet city approval.

The Lake Shore Drive building where the fire happened this month, which dates from 1952, is among the buildings that has failed submit plans, the Tribune reported.

The 2004 ordinance itself has also met with complaints. The Tribune says it requires multiple stamps of approval from both the city and condo or cooperative boards.

Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board executive director Tom Lia calls the 2004 ordinance so weakly enforced to be “virtually useless,” and says sprinkler systems should be required with no alternative to satisfy the law, the Tribune reported.

The spread of the fire has been blamed widely on the couple who lived in the apartment where it started. They started told investigators they propped the door open with a rug when they left to get away from the fire so their pets – a cat or cats – could get out too.

After the fire, officials said it appeared that either a candle left burning or an electrical problem was to blame for the deadly blaze.

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