NFPA Journal - May/June 2013 - (Page 128)
Chicago’s LaSalle Hotel Fire
IT WAS BILLED AS the largest, safest, and most modern hotel west
of New York City. Built in 1909, Chicago’s 22-story LaSalle Hotel
had an ornate walnut-paneled lobby with marble floors, several
grand dining rooms, and a mansard roof complete with a garden.
A central elevator shaft provided access to 1,000 guest rooms.
The hotel also had combustible acoustic ceiling tiles, hollow
pockets in the walls and ceilings, combustible rugs and furnishings, and an open light well that ran from the lobby to the roof. It
had no sprinklers, fire alarm system, or firestops in the ventilation
shafts, despite the management’s assertion that every precaution
had been provided for the safety of the public.
On June 6, 1946, a fire of unknown origin—it is thought to have
begun in the elevator pit or near a ground-floor lounge—raced
through the building shortly after midnight. According to the
records of the Illinois Fire Service Institute, Chicago Fire Department Battalion Chief Eugene Freemon and his men arrived just
minutes after they were notified of the fire at 12:35 a.m. When he
saw a wall of flames in the hotel lobby, Freemon ordered a second
alarm. Eventually he ordered three more alarms, bringing more
than 300 firefighters to the scene.
The fire spread up two open staircases to the third, fourth, and
fifth floors, and smoke filled the building. The fire had been able to
gather so much momentum because, rather than immediately call
the fire department, employees and guests had tried to fight the
flames with seltzer bottles and hotel fire extinguishers, according
to The New York Times.
NFPA JOURNAL MAY/JUNE 2013
The delay had deadly consequences. Rather than stay in their
rooms, guests tried to escape via the corridors, where they were
overcome by smoke. A fire official told a reporter that he “tried to
get down the corridor to the stairway, but was driven back by the
heat—we couldn’t breathe at all.” He retreated to a card room and
made for the window. Many did the same; some perched on the
building’s ledges, awaiting rescue, while others died attempting to
RATHER THAN immediately call the fire department,
employees and guests tried to fight the flames with
seltzer bottles and hotel fire extinguishers.
jump to the ground. Some managed to descend the fire escapes to
safety, including Anita Blair of El Paso, Texas. The 23-year-old Blair,
who was blind, “calmly donned robe and slippers and followed her
seeing-eye dog, Fawn, to a window and down 11 flights on a fire
escape,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
By the time the fire was brought under control, at 4:07 a.m.,
61 people had died and 200 were injured, making it the deadliest
hotel fire in Chicago history. Among the dead was Battalion Chief
Freemon, who died of smoke inhalation while fighting the blaze.
In the wake of the fire, Chicago’s city council enacted new hotel
building codes that required installation of automatic alarm systems and posting of safety instructions inside all guest rooms.
Photograph: AP/Wide World
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2013
NFPA Journal - May/June 2013
In a Flash
Work in Progress
Amping It Up
Code Process 2.0
Here, There, Everywhere
Expo Preview: Exhibitors' Showcase
NFPA Journal - May/June 2013