NEWS

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April 20, 2007

CFD swarms University Park apartment fire

[img id="80211" align="alignleft"] Fire trucks, police cars, and even a helicopter swarmed 55th Street last night after a small fire broke out on the fourth floor of University Park Condominiums, home to several students. No one was injured in the blaze, Chicago Fire Department officials said.

According to firefighter Richard Rosado, the fire station was alerted of the fourth-floor fire at 8:11 p.m., and the situation was resolved by 8:40 p.m. The Fire Department dispatched 15 vehicles, including ambulances and fire trucks, along with about 50 firefighters. A helicopter was dispatched as well.

Rosado said the scale of the reaction is typical for fires of this kind, and sending a helicopter to fires in high-rise buildings is standard. The apartment complex is 10 stories tall.

After what was widely seen as inept handling of a fire in a high-rise building at City Hall last year, Chicago stepped up its reaction to fires in high-rise buildings.

Many residents left the building when they heard about the fire, although no evacuation order was issued. Instead, firefighters used their P.A. system to tell residents “to stay in their rooms,” Rosado said.

“This way, everyone’s not in the halls,” Rosado said, adding that they aimed to avoid “pandemonium.”

Furniture several floors up was thrown from the window and sat in a heap outside the north side of the building, later taped off by policemen. Rosado attributed it to firefighters ridding the apartment in question of all contents that were in flames.

Though Rosado said the source of the fire remains under investigation, a fireman at the scene who was overseeing the situation—whose name is withheld because firemen are forbidden from talking to the press without approval—said a resident on the north side of the building “left something on the stove and let it burn up” causing a “small fire” in the apartment.

He added that the fire “didn’t spread out of the apartment” and that the residents of the apartment in question used the fire escape on the building’s west side to evacuate.

The condominium buildings are a Hyde Park landmark, built in 1961 as part of an urban renewal effort undertaken by the University and designed by famed architect I.M. Pei.

The commotion on 55th Street, where emergency vehicles lined both sides of the road for several blocks, incited confusion among both residents and passersby, who stood outside the building trying to figure out the status of the situation.

Ninth-floor resident Hannah Lee, a third-year in the College, said she was “working on her laptop” when a neighbor banged on her door to alert her of the fire five floors below.

Afterward, she expressed concern that no alarm had sounded in her apartment, and that she “wouldn’t have known” about the fire if not for her neighbor. She said that after evacuating, management gave little clue as to what had occurred and that residents had to make their own inquiries to police.

“It always boils down to administrative issues,” she said as she waited for managers to allow residents to reenter the building. She said management told her that the building was especially fireproof because it is made of cement.

Lee said the incident was particularly “alarming” because it comes after the Virginia Tech tragedy earlier this week. She said that “most definitely…. the panic element, with people gathered, not knowing what was going on,” stirred up fears about the Virginia shootings.

“It was really alarming,” she said.