Update: Since this blog was published, two additional teenagers impacted by this fire have died, bringing the human toll to 10 people. Officials are now investigating fireworks and smoke materials as probable causes to the fire.
A residential fire on August 26 that killed six children and two adults during an apparent sleepover is being named the city's deadliest fire in a decade. The Chicago Tribune reports that the fire's official cause hasn't been determined. Investigators did not find working smoke alarms in the home, but noted that the devices could have led to a different outcome.
"The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open," Larry Langford, spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, told the Tribune. "Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out."
Safety advocates were quick to note that, while important, a smoke alarm's ability only goes so far. According to NFPA, residents may have as little as two minutes once a smoke alarm sounds to safely escape a home fire. "Chicago needs to look at the data," says Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. "Two minutes is not enough time to escape a fire, especially when people are sleeping and there are children in the home who cannot escape by themselves."
Lia is advocating for requirements for smoke alarms and fire sprinklers in all new homes. While Chicago has a requirement to fire sprinkler its new high-rises, the city does not require fire sprinklers in new apartment buildings less than 80 feet in length. Lia says if the same structure impacted by this week's fire was built today, it would not require sprinklers. Not adhering to model building code requirements for this technology is a dangerous, life-safety gamble, say advocates. (Learn about NFPA's Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem and how tragedies can occur if all components of the ecosystem aren't embraced.)
Devastating home fires this year have made headlines. Last month, five children died from a residential fire in New Jersey. Bills have been introduced there to fire sprinkler its new homes, despite previous vetoes of similar bills by former Governor Chris Christie. In Illinois, another residential fire this year impacted more than 100 families. There were no fatalities, but the fire had a huge toll. "The fire was devastating, with more than 500 people displaced, $10 million in property damage, not to mention the cost involved when 50 fire departments responded to that fire," says Lia.
Join Lia in advocating for safer homes by using NFPA's data found on its Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.