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Chicago high-rise failed alarm inspection three days before extra-alarm fire

<i>WBBM</i><br/>The high-rise in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago where an extra-alarm fire broke out Thursday failed a fire alarm inspection just three days earlier.
The high-rise in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago where an extra-alarm fire broke out Thursday failed a fire alarm inspection just three days earlier.

By Sabrina Franza, Charlie De Mar, Chris Tye

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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — The South Shore high-rise where an extra-alarm fire broke out Thursday failed a fire alarm inspection just three days earlier, CBS 2’s Sabrina Franza has learned.

Records show the Lakefront Place Condo building at 6730 S. South Shore Dr. failed an annual fire alarm inspection on Monday, May 1.

The Fire Department ordered management to provide a report on and/or test the fire alarm and evacuation system, have a contractor change the alarm panel so it is in working order, and repair or replace a defective fire pump – the device that first responders normally would connect with in order to reach a fire multiple floors above ground.

“It’s not surprising to me,” said resident Vincent Rose. “It been problematic issues over the years for me and other residents in the building.”

We also found violations for issues involving heating – in December of last year, and again in February.

The 2-11 alarm fire started at 9:30 a.m. on the 10th floor of the 17-floor building, according to the Chicago Buildings Department.

Officials say about 150 firefighters responded to the scene. No injuries were reported.

Residents of the high-rise say they have been raising alarms about fire safety ever since a fire in the same building killed two people in 2013. Since then, new fire alarm equipment has been installed.

“It looks like it’s supposed to work, but something didn’t happen,” said Dr. Tanya Ratcliff, a resident of the building. “In my bathroom, there was smoke just accumulating in the ceiling, and so I could see the smoke coming out of the vent. And that’s when I said: ‘No, this is serious. I’ve got to get out here.'”

After the fire broke out Thursday morning, residents said smoke was coming up into their vents – filling bathrooms with smoke. By Ratcliff’s account, it was more than ten minutes until the alarm warnings sounded.

“Nothing,” Radcliff said. “The alarms didn’t go off until I was all the way downstairs and the Fire Department made it up here.”

Radcliff walked all the way down to the ground floor without hearing a peep from the alarm system – and says the only reason she knew to get out was that she noticed that smoke in the bathroom ceiling.

“I had time to walk down from 14th floor to the lobby – and there was no alarm going off,” Ratcliff said. “That’s a long walk.”

Rose also said he did not hear an alarm.

“If it were not for someone pounding on my door to say, ‘Get out of here,’ I would have never known,” Rose said. “There was no fire alarm. There was no alert system.”

Residents of the building told CBS 2 that for years, people who live in the building have been pleading with management to do something about their sprinkler and alarm system.

The building is old enough that it is not required to have sprinklers as long as it is approved by the Life Safety Evaluation.

In October 2003, six people were killed when they were trapped in a smoky stairwell during a fire at the George W. Dunne Cook County Office Building, 69 W. Washington St. The 2003 fire led to new regulations for high-rise buildings in Chicago.

An 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.

Real estate listings indicate that the South Shore high-rise was built in 1962.

Still, tenants would like an added safeguard such as sprinklers.

That does not mean most residents do not want the added safeguard.

Tenants are telling us they are evacuating the building until further notice. On Thursday night, some residents returned to the building after work – but were not allowed inside and needed to find somewhere else to spend the night.

While we were on the scene, representatives with the condo management company declined to provide any answers about that failed inspection – or when residents will be allowed back in the building.

CBS 2 has also reached out to property management company FirstService Residential by phone and email about why they failed to provide the fire alarm inspection report three days ago, and why the alarms didn’t go off on Thursday. We have not heard back.

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