Smoke Detectors and Sprinkler Systems Protecting Lives and Property

When a fire erupts in a Chicago building, it's terrifying but it doesn’t have to be deadly. There are a few essentials that can save the lives of the people who are inside that building: namely, a working smoke detector and a sprinkler system.

The Law in Chicagoland

As of April 1, 2005, the city of Chicago passed a Life Safety Ordinance (LSO) requiring that high-rises built after 1975 that were over 80 feet tall install sprinkler systems. Compliance also requires building owners and administrators to file a life safety data sheet with the city, install a voice communication system, and undergo a thorough life safety evaluation, along with fulfilling several other criteria. The LSO applies to residential and commercial buildings, including rentals. More than 600 residential buildings across the city of Chicago fit the criteria required to submit the Life Safety Evaluation report, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel deemed essential to improving fire safety standards.

“The city will do whatever it can to ensure that buildings are able to comply with the law, and ensure this essential work gets done,” said Emanuel in a press release. Condos affected by the ordinance had 9 years to come into compliance, but about 5 years ago, they had to supply the city with a self-assessment. Final assessments to be in complete compliance had to have been completed by December 31st of last year.

While the law only applied to relatively new buildings, State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis argued last year that all buildings should be required to have sprinklers. In 2003, six people died in a fire that broke out in a Cook County administration building. An investigation found that a major contributing factor to the fatalities was that the building didn’t follow state code on fire sprinklers. Matkaitis stressed that this would have been the perfect time to have all buildings install sprinklers—not just those over a certain height.

After lawmakers, building boards and management companies fought against him, arguing that putting sprinkler systems into old building systems would be too expensive, Matkaitis conceded—but only grudgingly. “As the brave first responders alongside whom I have served during four decades in fire protection know, Illinois needs 21st century fire safety standards,” he said.


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