by Barbara D'Amato
Far be it from me—well, not THAT far—to save work by re-posting a blog. However, a recent incident in our neighborhood, plus this time of year, makes me think a reminder might be important. The holidays are also days of accidental home fires. We have wrapping paper lying around, candles, fires in fireplaces, and often house guests who aren’t used to our houses and may “help” tidy up by dumping ashtrays into wastebaskets without checking for embers. And who don’t know where the fire extinguisher is kept.
So, a post from two years ago:
This is not the blog I intended to post.
Last night around one a.m. I woke up to the sound of sirens. Now, I live two blocks from the huge Northwestern University medical complex and two blocks from a fire station, so we have more sirens than crickets here. But this was different. In minutes, the street was full of fire trucks and ambulances.
It turned out to be a 5 alarm fire in a high rise around the corner from us, at 260 E. Chestnut. The fire department had responded very rapidly to a call from the thirty-sixth floor of the building. Eighteen ambulances, over twenty fire trucks, and three hundred firefighters responded, one-third of Chicago's firefighting force. A helicopter hovered over Lake Michigan, training a spotlight at the building.
Two hundred residents escaped. There were twelve people injured, including five firefighters, and one fatality, a woman in the apartment where the fire started.
It's been reported variously as a forty-four or fifty-one story building. The fire "lapped over" as the firefighters say, from floor thirty-six to thirty-seven, shooting out of the windows of thirty-six, breaking the windows of thirty-seven with its heat and then being sucked into thirty-seven.
Our building was never in any danger. But it reminds me of how vulnerable you feel living in a highrise.
I lived in houses until just a few years ago. I don't know whether, statistically, you are safer in a house or an apartment building, but you feel more in control. I believed in a house I could jump out of an upstairs window if I had to and run into the back yard. In a highrise you are dependent on other people doing the best thing.
The fire department last night did a great job. They searched the building, making sure everybody was safe, including a 105-year-old resident. A man and his young child had climbed onto the roof and called 911 from there. Firefighters took a canvas tarp up to keep them warm until it was safe to bring them down in the freight elevator. And they and the EMTs were working in seven-degree weather. The EMTs were out on the street from one a.m. until five. And yes, the ambulances are heated, but they aren't toasty warm in weather like that.
In a highrise fire:
Stay in your apartment if at all possible. As the fire chief said this morning "We'll find you."
But help them. Tell 911 where you are. The man on the roof called 911 to tell firefighters where he and his daughter were.
Put wet towels under the doors to keep smoke out of your apartment.
Keep a flashlight where you can find it easily and make sure it has working batteries.
Adding to this:
The fire was later determined to have started in a toaster. Check your appliances.
You need both smoke detectors and high-temperature alarms. In a house with stairs, you will need an alarm at the top of the stairs, in addition to inside a child’s room, in the basement, and on the main floor. Some people say smoke detectors in kitchens aren’t useful because they go off too much, but we haven’t found that to be a problem.
The internet is a good source of information on where to place alarms, but your local fire department usually will advise you, too