The Consequences of Chicago’s Failed Status Quo for Lakeshore Residents

Shantel’s building at 3130 N Lakeshore on the morning of the fire.

When Shantel McCoy pressed the button to call the elevator in her building at 3130 N Lakeshore, she didn’t know about the fire raging on the 12th floor. Heat and fumes had filled her hallway, and when Shantel tried to exit the elevator, she was thrown back by the blast. She passed before she arrived at the hospital.

Shantel shouldn’t have died on the morning of January 8th, 2012, less than a year after moving to Chicago from Philadelphia. But despite the changes to Chicago’s fire code in 2004, her building still wasn’t required to have a sprinkler system or even an alarm to alert residents of an emergency. Or a mechanism that would shut down the building’s elevators during a fire.

“Without fire sprinklers, there’s no way to stop fires in the living spaces of the high-rise,” said fire safety expert Tom Lia. “As evidenced by the unfortunate death of Shantel McCoy in 2012 and continued fires, it’s clear that without fire sprinklers residents lives are continually at risk.”

So why wasn’t Shantel’s building safe? Because her Alderman had intervened.

In December 2011, mere weeks before the fire, Shantel’s alderman, Tom Tunney, sponsored an ordinance giving building owners three more years to make the improvements required by the 2004 fire code ordinance, arguing that high-rise property management corporations were having trouble footing the bill.

3130 N Lakeshore on the day after the fire.

One of those changes would have required the elevator that transported Shantel to the 12th floor to stop in case of fire. But Planned Property Management, the owners of Shantel’s building, didn’t make the necessary improvements to their elevators, and thanks to Tunney’s ordinance, they weren’t required to.

The interests of the residents of 3130 N Lakeshore weren’t served by the delay, and thousands of Chicagoans in high-rises across the city were made less safe in the subsequent three years. The only people to benefit were the building owners.

When I decided to run, I made a pledge to never accept campaign contributions from developers or corporations. No alderman should, because these contributions inevitably effect decisions. Ultimately, the problem with Chicago’s politics isn’t just the obvious cases of corruption that currently fill the headlines. It’s the conflicts of interest that come from $2,500 checks from developers and building owners that skew priorities and lead aldermen to put profits before safety.

When Tom Tunney looked at fire safety in the high-rises and decided in December of 2011 to delay the 2004 ordinance for three years, he was thinking first about the costs for the building owners who continue to fill his campaign coffers, not about the danger for the building residents. And that mindset had tragic consequences.

None of us should forget Shantel McCoy, and or the mistakes that put her in that elevator 7 years ago, the excuses that followed, and the misplaced priorities that continue to put developers and building owners ahead of the people of our city.

It’s time to end the status quo that failed Shantel McCoy.

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