Cook County Fire

Cook County Fire

Incident summary

In the “cook county administration building review”, the writers draw our attention to the tragic fire that claimed six lives in Cook County. On October 17, 2003 at 5:00 pm combustion started in a storeroom on one of the floors of an administration building in Cook County. The personnel in charge of the fire was absent during that period therefore the construction engineer resolved to evacuate the building. The fire department was alerted and they began to fight the fire. Conversely, the evacuation process was not successful and several lives were lost. It is important to develop our building and improve safety in all areas. Safety lapse can occur anywhere, whether at home, school or hospital safety precautions are important. This fire is neither the fire nor the last one the people of this county will experience but it provides an opportunity for the society to learn from the past mistakes. The lessons learnt from the fire and the information in the report will help to improve and change the construction of building in the city in a positive way.

Major problems

            The review established more than eighty patterns of inconsistencies and incompetence that contribute to the damages and the tragic loss of lives. Nevertheless, four major elements influenced the spread of the fire. First, the building was short of automatic fire sprinklers, which would have lent a hand in controlling the fire in the initial stages. The fire department also failed to keep an account of the people in the flight of stairs during the evacuation operation. The fire fighters had poor communication and they lacked the right gear and equipment. Thirdly, the fire department made a mistake when they opened the stairway door of the burning floor. This action made way for the smoke and heat that killed the occupants in the flight of stairs. Lastly, the stairway doors were locked therefore the people evacuating found themselves trapped in the flight of stairs. They had no means of going to another room to escape from the dangerous conditions. The fire department, the building management, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois all had a case to answer.

Major recommendations

             The report recommended the building administration to set up automatic fire sprinklers, install a system that unlock stairway doors during emergencies and establish an action plan for emergencies. In addition, the occupants of the building should be trained so that everyone is aware of their roles in case of fire. Similarly, security officers working in the building should receive ample training. The city of Chicago should introduce a system that reviews its municipal code annually to make sure it remains compliant to the rules and regulations. The installation should be a prerequisite for all building constructors or owners. The city of Chicago fire department is required to accept and put into operation a management system that is acknowledged nationally. This type of system will help the department in addressing the issues relating to the fire. Moreover, the report recommended the department to update its policies, procedures and rescue operations to ensure that priority is given to the life saving measures and inhabitant accountability.


             The source of the initial fire at the cook county administration building remains unknown. Occupants of the building discovered the fire through smoke. The report contains pictures of the building and models to explain how the fire managed to spread. It also explains the impact of an automatic sprinkler. The writers of the report hope that the lessons learnt will help to improve safety precaution measures and fire fighting skills in the city of Chicago.


James Lee Witt Associates. (2004). Cook county administration building review. Washington, DC












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