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Op-ed: In 7 years, 61 people died in buildings with fire safety dangers known to city officials. Why hasn’t Chicago done more about this?

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05.08.2021

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Chicago’s summers mark the time when homicides annually reach their bloody peak.

Winter marks a killing season of a different sort. Just as hot summer nights bring death by handguns, bitter-cold winters bring death by fire.

With winters come the use of stoves to heat apartments; the overloading of outdated electric circuits; the crowding for warmth in cramped quarters. Blocked exits become death traps. Failed smoke detectors become silent killers.

Chicago’s sad record on fire safety has not drawn nearly as much attention as the failure to address the problem of street violence. People die from fires in smaller numbers, which likely is a factor.

But a death is a death. And death need not come by the hundreds each year in order to matter in the life of the city.

Earlier this year, the Tribune teamed with the Better Government Association to report that 61 people had died over a seven-year period in buildings with fire-safety dangers that were known to the city.

The failures had many faces.

City inspectors didn’t follow up on residents’ complaints about broken smoke detectors or effectively act to clear blocked exits. The city settled lawsuits against building owners with little evidence of repairs, and the Department of Buildings looked the other way on repeated landlord violations.

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© Chicago Tribune


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