The five-alarm fire broke out in the early evening of Dec. 6 at LaSalle Bank's corporate headquarters and continued to burn for almost six hours. It sent one-third of the city's firefighting resources to the scene and injured at least 35 people.

The blaze apparently damaged most contents on the 29th floor of the 45-story office building. It eventually spread to the 30th floor before firefighers struck it out around midnight on Dec. 7.


Even though no fatalities were reported, the event is an unsavory reminder of the 2003 Cook County Administration Building fire, where six people trapped in a stairwell died of excessive smoke inhalation. The tragedy brought forth several proposed changes to the city's building code.

In the wake of the LaSalle fire, city council members say they plan to pass an ordinance proposal requiring sprinkler retrofits in existing office towers. "My absolute expectation is that the ordinance will be adopted," says Ald. Bernard Stone, chair of the city council's buildings committee. The council is scheduled to vote on Dec. 10, with final adoption next week.

The new law would require automatic sprinklers in pre-1975 high-rise offices by 2012. Also on the agenda are code amendments for existing, non-sprinklered residential towers, including all buildings with historic status. For these structures, sprinklers would not be required; however, a licensed architect or engineer would need to conduct a life-safety evaluation, says Carl F. Baldassarra, president of Deerfield, Ill.-based Schirmer Engineering Corp., the city's code consultant.

Proposed changes also would relax Chicago's sprinkler design requirements, such as allowing the use of plastic pipe. Other amendments would make the city's existing and perhaps ambiguous high-rise codes "crystal clear," Baldassarra says.

Ironically, LaSalle Bank was installing an automatic sprinkler system at the time of the fire, according to Shawn M. Platt, company spokesman. The 1.2-million-sq-ft building remains closed as investigators probe the cause of the blaze.

hicago lawmakers say they are even more intent on updating the city's building code after a Dec. 6 high-rise fire at a 70-year-old office building. The persistent-yet-limited blaze came nearly 14 months after a deadly office fire that is still lingering in the public mind.