Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Long Dying Before Two Deaths at 1744 E. 75th Street

This is what this post is about.
Photo originally Chicago Tribune; H/T The Fire Critic

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 22:  Chicago firefighte...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
On December 22, 2010, nineteen firefighters were injured at the site of the former Sing Way laundry. Four were trapped in rubble when the roof caved in. There is a tasteful but revealing photo series on the page here. It shows, among other things, that the Sing Way laundry was a red brick, slightly higher than one-story building.

Two of those trapped firefighters will be mourned this week. The other injured are healing from non-critical injuries somewhere off-camera--all released from the hospital, at least. And everyone in the Chicago FD, their families and friends, are surely rocked. It is the largest loss of life for the Chicago FD in a decade.

Today, Tuesday December 28th, the funeral for Edward Stringer will take place at 10:00 a.m. He had twelve years of service in the Chicago FD and reportedly loved his job. He leaves behind two grown children. He had a dog named Roscoe.

On Thursday, December 30, 2010, Corey Ankum's funeral will take place at 11:00 a.m. He had two years in the fire service. He was a former police officer; he had a wife and three children, the youngest of whom is one year old. His brother is a firefighter in the same house. They lived across the street from each other.

It is the numbers of deaths and injuries that drove the investigative journalists to find out the cause of these deaths. And I think there are three.

One: Negligence.
According to this NBC Chicago article
The property, at 1738-1744 E. 75th St., was cited more than three years ago for a number of violations, including:
  • failing to maintain the parapet wall in good repair and free from cracks and defects...
  • failing to maintain the lintel in good repair and free from cracks and defects...
  • failing to maintain roof in sound condition and repair, watertight and free from defects...
In an Aug. 20, 2007 report, it was noted that holes were present in the roof and that it was leaking and rotten in some areas.  The report concluded the owners, Chuck Dai and Richard Dai, had failed to maintain the structure in a safe and stable condition. 
Among other fixes, the building's owners were ordered to restore the roof loads to their original use by removing additional weights and structures attached to the trusses.
City officials weren't able to verify Wednesday evening whether the property was still in violation following a Nov. 1, 2010 repair deadline. 
Chuck Dai had been in court at least seven times in reference to the building and had indicated to the city that he expected it to go into foreclosure.  A city official said Dai told them that he was attempting to reach an agreement by which he could deed the property back to his mortgage provider.
The Long Dying
So, those trusses. The Fire Critic has posted a great deal of information on his site about the fire, including a video from a former Fire Chief/textbook writer/expert consultant. One of the things he said is that very type of roof (a bow-string truss) is one of the more dangerous sorts of roofs for a fire. So I looked up the construction: it's curved, and an "economy roof". In steel, this can cross large expanses, but it's a tension apparatus.  So that roof was overloaded with "additional weights and structures" that screwed the tension distribution that holds it up. And really, I suppose that goes for any roof.

One example of a bow-spring truss.

But the roof didn't crumble, or at least not first: the wall did. So this is what I think the deal is: just guessing.
The Dai brothers rented to a low-overhead dry-cleaning establishment "as-is".  Neither tenant nor landlord hired engineers to help them place their equipment. They've probably been in code violation for a long time.

The rent got paid until the dry-cleaners folded in 2005. The Dai brothers either didn't inspect their property when it was rented, or they didn't care, or they didn't see what was in front of them. The structure-compromising equipment rusted in place. The brick walls didn't get tuck-pointed, the wood didn't get painted, and the walls degraded. The extra stress on the roof pulled more heavily on the walls. The walls cracked. And the roof leaked. The degradation speeds up. And the repairs didn't happen.

Two: Carelessness
The now-abandoned building was boarded up. But such things also take supervision. You have to check them, re-board, evict, sweep out, re-tighten. Because people will try to get in. They break in to get warm or to make deals or to escape the law.

Some vagrant lit a trash fire in the rear of the building. It got out of hand. The building went up at 7:00 a.m. The crew rushed out. They would have seen and probably known in advance, just like the police and the building inspectors, that this building was bad news. They had the fire beaten back, but were checking for hot spots on the roof and people inside. So dangerous building or not, a crew went in: to save life, to investigate, to be sure they were done.

Three: Blunt Trauma
More than one hundred seventy personnel were there. Two that came out died in the hospital of blunt trauma, when wood and brick piled on top of them. One firefighter injured his eyes by taking off his mask, giving oxygen to his brother-in-arms in the rubble.

So now:
Chuck Dai, who owns the building with younger brother Richard, reported himself as "in tears."
Perhaps he was. He is also on record to say that "he was just ready to send a construction crew in." Perhaps that's true too. 

But it doesn't satisfy, somehow. Those tears don't remedy three to four years of compliance avoidance. They don't wash away a record of the city suing him three times since 1987 over code compliance. They don't keep us from noting his wish that defaulting on financial responsibility would remove the problem for him.

We as a society value human life. We also know that one fire can bring down an entire city. (London, 1666. Chicago, 1871. San Francisco, 1906.) We send in the few to save the many. 

And it seems gothic today. It seems wrong.  It seems like the ne'er do wells got the free ride. They still live; they took no risk. They have a chance to keep doing what they always do.

The truth is, the first responders go in for all of us. Because fire spreads, and we all potentially lose. 
But we lost anyway. We lost two very fine firefighters, two good people. 

But nobody lost more than  Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum. May they rest in peace. 
May we learn from this. May we be diligent in our responsibilities. And careful with fire.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Bob G. said...

You covered all the bases wonderfully.

This is what happens when a city fails to act in a timely fashion with code violations.

We ALL pay the price.

Excellent post.

Stay safe out there.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Yes, I think maybe the city didn't come around fast enough and often enough. But it WAS in court. It is the judicial delay, and the unwillingness of the owner to attend to the law that was the first crime. I am very angry.

I have stopped to consider that perhaps the Dai Brothers were broke. However, that's not the trend of the reporting--he didn't throw himself on the mercy of the court, he argued with it.

There's a message here about abandoned property. It needs, in many cases, to be taken down, and the property to have a lien on it for city services before any new building or ownership transfer to take place.

Gracious, ranting again!
Thanks for stopping in and bringing the SOAPBOX.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that the list of violation codes within the city of Chicago is long and storied. E2 nightclub. The porch-party collapse. This incident. And I could name more. It's a systemic problem within the city. It's a systemic problem within the governments of both the city and Cook County.

That said, I believe there is a fourth issue at hand I would love to see discussed. Is their a justification for sending human beings in situations to protect personal property? I'm not a firefighter. There may be more at play I'm missing, like perhaps they were searching for people inside. But from the law enforcement side, I question them being in that precarious position in the first place.

Ann T. said...

Dear Lt.,
My understanding of such things is limited. I Agree with you that this was a bad idea, to send these firefighters in.

However, from what I have read, the department is saying that the fire was "suppressed" and that they were inspecting for other homeless/vagrants in the building when they went in--i.e., at suitable juncture. Now of course it seems they went in wrongly. And there were no vagrants inside. They had already fled.

Personally I think they should have gone in AFTER they checked the roof. it could be that the extra weight on the roof (if any) contributed to the wall collapse.

Other than that, and without technical knowledge of the field or eyewitness knowledge, I cannot say.

I hope the department learns from it, as well as the rest of us. I won't be rigging anything on my ceiling, that's for sure.

Thanks for writing in,
as always you have given an enlightening comment!!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
I seem to have misplaced my copy of Report From Engine Co. 82 but I remember that the author, Dennis Smith, meditating on a time when firemen might not be aggressive with abandoned buildings, might not enter without SCBA (masks were not in regular use in the 1970s). The book is set in the South Bronx in the 1970s when it was burning up.

It is not just that but the whole codes enforcement mechanism which needs to be both enforcing and flexible at times. Too much flex and too much is allowed to pass. Too little flex and earnest but lacking building owners can be treated too roughly.

Great treatment--sad topic.

The Observer

PS: If you have not read the classic FF autobiography, I recommend "Report..." heartily.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
The comment about code enforcement is very wise. It brings to mind some of the unease I found myself in in regard to the building inspection part of this summary.

Thanks for crystallizing my thoughts.

As for the book, I will definitely take a look for it! I have been looking for a new good book to read!

Ann T.