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Updated 01/26/12 – 4:56 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — City workers on Thursday morning removed a set of concrete and steel posts that had blocked a key entrance to an apartment complex where two small children died in a fire earlier this week.
The six barriers had blocked an entry to the apartment complex at 130th Street and Daniel Drive – just east of Indiana Avenue and west of the Altgeld Gardens public housing development. Crews took two of them down Thursday.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, the barriers were owned by the city and placed more than 30 years ago at the request of residents who live at the apartment complex, hoping it would cut down on crime by eliminating an escape route for criminals.
But after Tuesday’s fatal fire, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) consulted with firefighters and determined the barriers had to go. A 17-foot section of the barrier was removed.
The posts blocked direct access to the complex from 130th Street, and because of that, rescue teams had to drive more than half a mile around the building to get to the fire, costing firefighters more than two minutes of extra time to begin fighting a fire early Tuesday morning.
Some neighbors said those wasted minutes could have been used rescuing the children and possibly saving their lives. But the Fire Department has said it’s not clear if the extra time would have made a difference for the two kids.
Destiny Myles, 3, and her brother, Jeremiah, 18 months – died in the Tuesday morning fire at 319 E. 130th St.
The smoke detector awoke the children’s mother when the fire broke out, and she was able to escape with the 6-year-old. But the door slammed shut behind her before she could get to Jeremiah and Destiny.
Leotis Broughton – a cousin of the children’s mother – a police officer and a tow truck driver helped to break down the door to the apartment, but they were met with a wall of flame and couldn’t get in.
Broughton said he also tried to get in through a window, but was blocked by flames there, as well. He said when he saw that fire trucks had to drive several blocks to a different entrance to the apartment complex, rather than driving right up to the building from 130th Street, “I just felt helpless. I got weak in the knees. It wasn’t nothing I could do.”
Even though the building where the fire started stands right near the 130th Street entrance, the barriers forced firefighters to drive several extra blocks to the only open entrance to the complex so they could reach the building.
Several speed bumps along the roadway inside the apartment complex also slowed down fire crews.
Deputy Fire Chief Bob McKee said, “It’s a long ride around because it’s only one way in and this happened to be the last apartment in the complex. So the speed bumps and the way this complex is laid out, it lengthens your response time to get to this area.”
Once firefighters got inside, they had to go through flames to find Destiny on the floor and Jeremiah in his crib. Neither showed signs of life.
In addition to removing the barriers on Thursday, officials said half of the speed bumps also will be taken out in the coming weeks.
The children’s cousin, Lisa Broughton, said she appreciates the changes, but wishes the road had been open when her cousins needed it most.
“It was just crazy,” she said. Although firefighters responded quickly, “they couldn’t get here fast enough” because of the blocked entrance.
Although a chain link fence remains in place at the 130th Street entrance, officials said fire trucks easily can drive through that fence in the event of another emergency.
Beale also said that firefighters were not immediately told that children were trapped in the apartment. He said, if they had known that, they would have driven over the fence in a spot not also blocked by the steel and concrete posts.
Investigators are looking into whether the oldest boy was trying to heat up a pizza box that ended up catching fire.
DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said Wednesday that the agency has had previous contact with the family.
The investigations have been for three alleged incidents, including one of neglect by the mother, and two of abuse at the hands of two different boyfriends. One of the abuse investigations happened in 2006 and 2007, the other in 2008 and 2009, Marlowe said.