The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago high rise fire kills six

Nov 3, 2003

On October 17, a fire broke out in a high rise building owned by Cook County that killed six people. The fire occurred on a lower floor of the 35-story building, apparently caused by a short in an electric fixture. Those who died choked on smoke in a stairwell around the 22nd floor, where the doors in the stairwell were locked, preventing their escape to safety.

The building, which was put up in the early 1960s, was bought by the county in 1996 for 40 million dollars. The county spent 22 million dollars to spruce it up, but it didn't put in sprinklers – cost two million dollars. It didn't put in fans to keep the stairways free from smoke – cost a half million dollars. Nor did it put in a centralized system to release stairwell doors when a fire alarm was sounded. County officials might as well have decided to murder someone – since they made decisions that guaranteed someone would sooner or later die in a fire.

David Lucht of the center for fire safety of the Worchester Polytechnic Institute said after this current fire, "I was shocked when I learned that a high-rise building in Chicago didn't have sprinklers."

This is not just any building – it is a county building, run by the very government supposedly responsible for safeguarding the lives of people. Instead of doing that, it took advantage of a loophole in the fire code in order not to put in fire protection, just like any slumlord willing to take full advantage of this loophole at the expense of their tenants. So six people died.