CHICAGO (CBS) — The Quinn administration is pushing for new statewide fire safety requirements that would cost Chicago’s high rise residents hundreds of millions of dollars.

The proposed life safety code update calls for sprinkler systems in even the oldest high rise buildings.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine says City fire officials are fighting back.
Chicago’s life safety ordinance was rewritten right after deadly fire 10 years ago in the county building. It requires sprinklers in newer buildings, but not those built before 1975, which are subject to other requirements to make them safer without installing sprinklers.

There are more than 600 apartments in one Lake Shore Drive high-rise. Built in 1969, with solid concrete slab walls and floors, there’s already conduit running along the walls for that communication system, but what about a sprinkler system?

The ceilings are solid concrete so you have to suspend the pipes below the ceiling,” said Tom Randall.

How much would it cost? Tens of millions of dollars.

From the roof of the 43 story structure, you can see literally dozens of older high-rises in the same boat. Some estimate the number at hundreds.

“We want these buildings to be safe but we want people to be able to afford to live in them,” said Alderman Brendan Reilly.

State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis says the proposed amendments are being misinterpreted.

“If they take the fire safety evaluation and they pass it they don’t have to put sprinklers. Or what we can do, we can show them a cheap easy way to partially sprinkler the building in their common areas or in their hallways,” said Matkaitis.

“The city law department assures me that the state fire marshal does not have the authority to impose these rules in the City of Chicago,” said Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago.

Santiago says the city ordinance, with its requirement of automatic door closers on fire resistant doors, fire communications systems, smoke sensors and elevator recalls are sufficient.

“I understand what he’s trying to do and a lot of that is unnecessary,” said Santiago. “It’s also unreasonable to the owners.”