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High-rise residents up in arms over sprinkler proposal

State Rep. Ken Dunkin

State Rep. Ken Dunkin

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Updated: September 3, 2013 7:22AM

High-rise dwellers gathered Wednesday night in the Loop to voice concerns about the exorbitant expenses they expect would accompany a proposed statewide measure requiring older buildings to install fire sprinklers within a set amount of time.

The meeting was hosted by state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave. Around 200 people attended the gathering, which quickly descended into angry shouting when it was announced that State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis, who is fighting for the rule change, would not be attending.

The rule change in the state fire code would require high-rises built before 1975 to install sprinklers. Those buildings are currently exempt in Chicago. And all new homes also would be required to have sprinklers.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) told the crowd the new rule would impose a financial burden many can’t afford. “In Chicago all post-1975 high-rise buildings require sprinkler systems. All pre-1975 high-rises that do not have sprinkler systems have undergone a rigorous life safety evaluation conducted by licensed professional engineers to determine whether safety upgrades . . . are required to ensure a comparable level of fire safety.”

The measure will be considered in Springfield by members of the bipartisan group known as the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who sits on the commitee, said Matkaitis has an uphill fight to get the rule change passed.

“I think he has a heavy lift to convince members of JCAR the rule he has proposed is appropriate,” said Lang.

Lang and other committee members will decide whether Matkaitis has the authority to issue the rule change. Lang was not sure when the committee would address the matter, but thought it would likely come up when the group meets in September.

“It might turn out the best way for him to accomplish this would be to approach a member of the Legislature and have it proposed as a statute,” Lang said.

He said he’s received more than 1,000 emails against the rule change, and only one or two for it.

Fioeretti noted the measure could cause some families unable to pay for upgrades to lose their homes.

“The cost will be exorbitant to say the least. I want to know where each gubernatorial candidate stands on this,” Fioretti said.

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