Chicago Fire Death Highlights Elevator Hazards

                                                                                                       Image Credit: ABC News

The death of a Chicago woman who stepped off her elevator into a blazing inferno Sunday has underscored the need for fire sensors in elevators.

Shantel McCoy, 32, who was returning to her 12th-floor apartment on Lake Shore Drive, died after the elevator doors opened and she was hit with 1,500-degree temperatures from gas and fire fumes, according to a Chicago Fire Department spokesman.

The accident should never have happened, a leading elevator consultant said today. Charles Buckman, a 56-year veteran of the elevator industry, said a national engineering safety code requires elevators to have fire sensors on every floor and in the motor room.

In this building, Buckman speculated, "They must not have been fitted with sensors. Or else they got away with murder. Literally."

The 21-story building, among Chicago's older high-rises, was not required to meet safety codes established in 1975, according to building department spokesman Bill McCaffney. It was apparently built in the 1950s.

Chicago's city council recently voted to put off until 2015 the deadline for meeting a new ordinance that requires building-wide alarm systems that automatically trigger elevators to descend to the ground floor and shut down.

Buckman, a principal with the consulting firm Doherty and Buckman of New Bern, N.C., said even older buildings should be equipped with fire sensors that automatically shut down all elevators. "The elevator should not have been available to this unfortunate lady," he said. "The elevators should have closed their doors and shut down the return to the first floor so that no one can use the elevators in a fire."

The consultant, who has testified in numerous court cases involving faulty elevators, had his own harsh judgment. "In this case, somebody committed murder," he alleged. 

The building's management company did not respond to a request for comment.

The fire apparently began in a 12th-floor apartment. Its residents managed to escape, but the apartment door did not close, allowing the fire to spread to the hallway. Nine other residents were injured in the blaze.

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