Today in fire history: 19 die in Chicago hotel fire

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Mar 14, 2012

An early morning fire on March 14, 1981 resulted in the deaths of 19 tenants, and injuries to 13 other persons (including two police officers).  The fire began in a first-floor laundry room and quickly spread to a nearby stairway, which trapped many of the 62 occupants of the four-story residential hotel. 

The Chicago Fire Department first received a telephoned report of smoke at 2:59 a.m.  When they arrived at 3:02 a.m. they found the rear stairway of the hotel fully involved.  Rescue operations were made difficult by the extensive fire involvement, thick black smoke, and the loss of the rear stairway, however, firefighters were able to rescue 20 occupants from the upper floors by means of ground ladders. 

Several factors contributed to the severity of this incident:

  • Lack of adequate corridor fire protection
  • Lack of adequate protection in hazardous areas
  • The hotel reportedly served as a residence for patients in area drug and alcohol detoxification programs, people undergoing this treatment may not be capable of self preservation during a fire emergency
  • Performance of detectors and alarm systems was inadequate, and many room detectors did not have batteries

NFPA members can read the Fire Journal article