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Chicago High Rise Building Fires: What You Need to Know

For a landlord or building owner, few things are more frightening than a high-rise building fire. While you can’t guarantee that your building will never be affected by a fire, you can take proactive steps to reduce your risk and learn how to respond in the event of a fire. 

In this post, we’ll discuss the statistics surrounding high-rise building fires, and what action to take in case of a fire event.

Let’s dive in. 

Chicago High-Rise Residential Fire Statistics 

As recently as March 6th of 2021, Chicago firefighters responded to a high-rise fire in the city. 

The most recent fire took place in a 16-story building in the 4300 block of West Ford City Drive. While the fire was confined to a single unit (authorities later determined it was caused by unattended cooking), not all high-rise fires are so contained. 

Here are some statistics to be aware of:

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), five types of properties make up 73% of all high-rise fires: apartments or multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings.
  • Fortunately, high-rise buildings are more likely to include fire detection and suppression systems (such as sprinklers) than other residential properties. They’re also more likely to be built of fire-resistant material. This means fires are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin. 
  • Most high-rise building fires begin no higher than the 6th floor. 
  • According to The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), fire departments responded to an average of 15,700 high-rise fires between 2005-2009. These fires resulted in an annual average of 53 deaths, 546 injuries, and $235 million in property damage. The HUD also found that 2.6% of all reported structure fires during that period were in high-rise buildings.

When residential high-rise fires hit, they can be devastating. Knowing how to respond will limit damage to your building and danger for your tenants.

What to Do If There is a Fire in Your Chicago High Rise Apartment Building 

high rise building chicago

If faced with a high-rise building fire, it’s essential to act decisively. Here’s what to do in case of a fire in your Chicago high rise:

1. Remain calm

Keeping a clear head during a fire is essential. Hopefully, you’ve already created an emergency fire exit plan for your high-rise building. Now is time to enact it. Here are some additional steps recommended by Chicago’s city government::

  • Contact the fire department – do not assume someone else has already done it.  
  • Stay calm during the call with the fire department. Answer the dispatcher’s questions clearly and in as much detail as possible. 

2. Know how to exit the building

If the door is warm to the touch…

  • Do not attempt to open it. Stay in the room.
  • Stuff the cracks around the door with any material you can find, such as bedding, tape, or rags. 
  • Cover any vents in the room to keep smoke out.
  • If possible, contact the fire department and tell them exactly where you are located. 
  • Wait at a window and signal for help using a flashlight or by waving a piece of cloth.
  • Open a window, if possible. 

If the door is not warm to the touch…

  • Stay low to the ground and open the door slowly. If you see smoke or fire outside, close the door. 
  • If there is no smoke or fire, follow the evacuation plan set forth for your building.
  • Pull the nearest fire alarm while exiting the floor.
  • If you encounter smoke or flames anywhere in the building, return to your apartment or office. 
  • Once you are outside the building, do not re-enter it. 
  • Inform the fire department about how many people may be trapped in the building, and where they are located.

3. Contact ServiceMaster of Lake shore

Once the fire is extinguished, you’ll need the help of a professional disaster recovery company to recover your building. Call ServiceMaster of Lake Shore for comprehensive fire damage restoration services in Chicago and suburbs.

5 Things You Should Never do in a High-Rise Fire 

Here are some behaviors to avoid at all costs during a fire event:

1. Never break a window

Do not break a window to provide airflow, since you may need to close it the smoke gets worse. Additionally, breaking a window provides more oxygen for a fire, which may encourage it to grow rapidly. 

2. Never open a door that is hot to the touch

Doors that feel warm or have smoke entering the cracks probably have a fire on the other side. Opening the door would allow the fire to “leap” through the gap and spread. 

3. Never re-enter the building

Once you’ve escaped the building, do not return inside. Reentering a smoldering building increases your chances of smoke inhalation. According to recent research, 50% of people who experience severe smoke inhalation ultimately die. 

4. Never hide

Hiding may be natural when you’re scared, but it can make it harder for first responders to locate you. Instead, wait by a window or door for rescue.

5. Never use the building’s elevators

Elevators may seem like the fastest way to get out of a burning building, but they can place you at increased risk of entrapment. Instead, use the stairs to exit the building. 

Chicago High-Rise Fire Safety Tips 

high rise building fire sprinkler in chicago

Preventing fires in high-rise residential buildings is much easier than responding to them after they’ve occurred. Keep these high-rise fire safety tips in mind:

  • Install a sprinkler system and other fire suppression and safety features, including fire alarms, throughout the building.
  • Keep all exit and stairwell doors clearly marked with photoluminescent signs, and never block or lock them.
  • Keep fire extinguishers available and centrally located throughout the building.
  • Create a fire evacuation plan and post it prominently throughout the building.
  • Practice your fire evacuation plan regularly with your tenants.
  • Inspect, upgrade, repair, and replace all fire exits, fire alarms, and other fire suppression and management systems.

For more high-rise, fire safety tips for disabled adults and special-needs tenants, consult the NFPA’s guidelines

Dealing with the Aftermath of a Chicago High Rise Fire? We Can Help

High-rise building fires can be incredibly damaging. Fortunately, our team can help you recover. Offering comprehensive fire restoration and recovery services, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore should be your first call for fire restoration.

Contact us today for 24/7 emergency assistance with fire damage: 312-707-8597

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    Our office is located in downtown Chicago, IL just west of Millennium Park, nearby Willis Tower and Magnificent Mile. We provide 24 hour emergency fire and water damage cleanup to all of Chicagoland including Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Gold Coast, Lake View, Magnificent Mile and Little Village. We also provide a variety of specialty cleaning services.