CHICAGO (CBS) — An angry capacity crowd turned out for a town hall meeting Wednesday night at Roosevelt University on new state fire code requirements that would force older high-rises to install costly sprinkler systems.

State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) thought he had confirmation that State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis would appear. Instead, Matkaitis sent a functionary, Fire Marshal’s office engineer Kathy Stasiak, who was repeatedly shouted down by a crowd that turned ugly the moment she said Matkaitis was out of state.

One condo owner even asked if Matkaitis’ trip was being paid for by the association representing sprinkler manufacturers and installers. Others said the rule, if approved, would force them out of their condos when it takes effect in January 2015.

“I just feel bad for the elderly people that are in my building that can’t afford this,” said condo owner Renee Andrews Toushinski
Allen Lipscher, owner of a Marine Drive condo, worries about the pipes across his ceiling.

“It’s going to look just beautiful and ruin the décor and value of the property aside from costing a fortune,” said Lipscher.

Although the town hall meeting was billed as a chance to become educated on the proposed rule changes, the crowd was not in a mood to let Stasiak make a full presentation.

She said that the fire marshal has historically gone to the Joint legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to obtain approval for fire code changes. By doing so, it has avoided going before the full General Assembly, but Dunkin and State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago) both indicated that they would seek to change that before the joint committee meets next month.

“He went directly to JCAR instead of the General Assembly for this egregious measure, over burdensome measure, and it puts us on a spot as legislators and he is not here to face the music,” said Dunkin.

So many people wanted to attend the hearing that the Chicago Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Richard Ford II, who also spoke against the proposed code change, had to order the doors to the hearing room closed because of crowding. Dozens milled about in the lobby of the building, barred by security guards, hoping others would leave.