WBEZ | Chicago Fire Department http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-fire-department Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Are there fallout shelters left in Chicago? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/are-there-fallout-shelters-left-chicago-112688 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/artworks-000126892821-754uuh-t500x500.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Kyle Bolyard&rsquo;s drive to work as a history teacher in suburban Niles, Illinois, takes him past a strange sign. It&rsquo;s planted on the side of a sturdy, brick building owned by the regional wastewater treatment authority.</p><p>&ldquo;I pass this building every single day and at some some point along the way I just kind of noticed it,&rdquo; says Bolyard, 26. &ldquo;It&#39;s a pretty small sign. It&#39;s kind of rusted a little bit. It says &lsquo;fallout shelter on floors one and in basement.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Fallout shelter, as in nuclear fallout following an atomic bomb blast. The symbol on the sign is familiar to Americans who lived through the Cold War: three yellow triangles circumscribed in a circle, pointing down. That sign got Kyle thinking.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>I was wondering if there were any nuclear fallout a nuclear blast shelters left in the city of Chicago or the area.</em></p><p>By some estimates there were hundreds of thousands of dedicated fallout shelters built in the 20 years following World War II. We looked for one still standing, and we did find some old shelters. But they&rsquo;re hardly the apocalypse-proof, fully-stocked bunkers that were once ready to weather a bomb blast and weeks-worth of radioactive fallout. Still, these remnants of Cold War-era infrastructure do exist across the city. In fact, buildings that served as fallout shelters are often in places you might not expect.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;It was an eerie time.&rsquo;</span></p><p>It feels distant to many people today, but for years the world was gripped with fears of a possible nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Each country stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear warheads in the decades following World War II, pursuing a strategy of &ldquo;deterrence&rdquo; by bulking up to discourage an attack. Meanwhile the now-defunct Office of Civil &amp; Defense Mobilization (commonly called Civil Defense) focused on preparing Americans for the unthinkable. A lot of people from this era remember <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqXu-5jw60" target="_blank">Bert the Turtle, who taught a generation of kids to &quot;duck and cover&quot;</a> in the event of a bomb.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BFT8hLjHtuE" width="420"></iframe></p><p>They were worried about two things: the actual blast of an atomic bomb, of course, but also its fallout &mdash; contaminated dust and debris kicked up into the air and rendered radioactive by a nuclear explosion.</p><p>Big, industrial cities like Chicago were considered major targets for a possible nuclear attack. Diane Addams, who grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood during the 1950s, remembers it as an anxious time.</p><p>&ldquo;It was kind of scary,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;People were buying and making fallout shelters, and trying to find out where we could go if there was an attack and all that kind of stuff. And they had those little signs that were saying that you go here, like in the subway, or certain other areas.&rdquo;</p><p>Addams says those who had the money and a little property could build their own bunkers. As apartment dwellers, her family had to have faith in public shelters.</p><p>&ldquo;It was just an eerie time,&rdquo; says Addams.</p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="0.9148073022312373" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_99201" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/275207521/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;access_key=key-MfCvfCEg3HkiBdpwfmVj&amp;show_recommendations=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Cold War preparation really got hot in 1961, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to cut off Western access to Berlin, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/berlin-is-divided" target="_blank">then a divided city</a>. President John F. Kennedy <a href="http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/historicspeeches/kennedy/berlincrisis.html" target="_blank">addressed the nation, pumping up the Civil Defense budget and urging Americans to prepare</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;In contrast to our friends in Europe, the need for this kind of protection is new to our shores. But the time to start is now,&rdquo; Kennedy said. &ldquo;In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack. I know that you will want to do no less.&rdquo;</p><p>Although some historians say the speech was mainly meant to intimidate Khrushchev, one effect was to stoke public anxieties about nuclear war.</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s this huge national debate of whether or not to build a shelter. Some magazine called that the question, &lsquo;To dig or not to dig,&rsquo;&rdquo; says Kenneth Rose, a professor at California State University Chico and author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/One-Nation-Underground-Fallout-American/dp/0814775233" target="_blank">the book One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture</a>. &nbsp;&ldquo;Almost every newspaper and every magazine in the country had articles on nuclear war and fallout shelters.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Local response: Cold War conversions</span></p><p>Like many cities across the country, Chicago designated existing structures as public fallout shelters, typically choosing large masonry buildings with windowless basements and thick stone or concrete walls. Federal officials affixed these buildings with reflective metal signs measuring 10 by 14 inches. In Chicago those included public school buildings, <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1976/10/31/page/4/article/display-ad-526-no-title" target="_blank">City Hall</a> and, indeed, the Terrence J. O&#39;Brien Water Reclamation Plant at 3500 W. Howard St. &mdash; the building that inspired Kyle Bolyard&rsquo;s question.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/falloutSheltersThumb.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 487px; margin: 5px;" title="Fallout shelter sign posted at 3500 Howard St, Skokie, Illinois. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Practically every town in America had some sort of public refuge like this, and Chicago had thousands. <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1967/07/13/page/83/article/civil-defense-devises-methods-to-study-home-shelter-potential" target="_blank">In 1967 the Chicago Tribune reported</a> that Cook county had 2,522 public fallout shelters, of which 1,691 were stocked with food and supplies. About three quarters of the county&rsquo;s 5 million people could have fit in the shelters, most of which were downtown, in the Loop.</p><p>Federal Civil Defense officials were responsible for stocking fallout shelters with everything they&rsquo;d need to survive at least two weeks underground. <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1962/10/26/page/8/article/u-s-spending-80-million-for-shelter-stock#text" target="_blank">Nationally the Pentagon spent more than $80 million on supplies</a>, which included bulgur wheat crackers for nutrition, giant drums of water and &ldquo;sanitation kits&rdquo; for personal hygiene.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://docsteach.org/documents/7386473/detail?menu=closed&amp;mode=search&amp;sortBy=relevance&amp;q=primarily+teaching+2015&amp;commit=Go" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/0849falloutShelterSupplyInventory.jpg" style="width: 610px; height: 485px; margin: 5px;" title="Supplies suggested for bomb and fallout shelters around the height of the Cold War. (Source: Records of The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization)" /></a></p><p>None of the agencies that we talked to &mdash; local, county, state, federal &mdash; could say exactly when they stopped checking up on fallout shelters in Chicago, or even what happened to any of the records about how many shelters existed in the area. It just kind of dropped off.</p><p>And by 1963 some survival kits were already deteriorating in storage. <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1963/11/24/page/12/article/civil-defense-kits-in-storage#text" target="_blank">The Tribune reported supplies for 2.2 million people were sitting &ldquo;virtually untouched&rdquo;</a> in federal warehouses at 39th Street &amp; Pershing Road and at O&#39;Hare International Airport. &ldquo;According to records of the federal government, Illinois ranks 50th in the fallout shelter stocking program. Chicago rates at the bottom of the list of metropolitan cities,&rdquo; <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1963/11/24/page/12/article/civil-defense-kits-in-storage" target="_blank">reported David Halvorsen</a>. Just a few dozen of the 3,000 federally approved shelters had been stocked, months or years after they&rsquo;d been designated as public refuges.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Local response: new construction</span></p><p>In some cases, though, the city did more to adapt to Cold War concerns than just slap a fallout shelter sign onto existing buildings and wait for federal supplies &mdash; a fact that becomes apparent during a tour conducted by Larry Langford, spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department. Langford drives me, questioner Kyle, and his wife, Amanda Snyder, around the South Side to see a few fire stations that had their own dedicated fallout shelters.</p><p>&ldquo;Most of the North Side fire houses have been replaced. So we have to, of course, go to old firehouses to find this,&rdquo; says Langford, who remembers Bert the Turtle&rsquo;s &ldquo;duck and cover&rdquo; drills.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="basement of Chicago Fire Department Engine 15, 8028 S. Kedzie Ave" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/doorToTheVaultForWeb.jpg" style="width: 600px; margin: 5px;" title="Basement of Chicago Fire Department Engine 15, 8028 S. Kedzie Ave. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Today the space under Engine 60 in Hyde Park looks like a lot of basements: Firemen use it to store their workout equipment, as well as bicycles they help repair for kids in the neighborhood. During the Cold War, though, the basement had heavy steel doors that could seal in hundreds of people at a time. The shelter also had a generator and a sophisticated air handling system to keep out radioactive debris.</p><p>&ldquo;The walls are very thick concrete designed to withstand all kinds of shock,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>As for a direct hit by an atomic bomb?</p><p>&ldquo;Nothing&#39;s going to withstand that,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>For questioner Kyle Bolyard, the area looks like what he expected: bare concrete walls, big open spaces and dark, twisting corridors.</p><p>&ldquo;You can imagine just rows and rows of cots or bed mats,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It would be really dark and really cramped.&rdquo;</p><p>Snyder adds: &ldquo;I would imagine it would start to smell really bad after a couple hours.&rdquo;</p><p>All of the shelter&rsquo;s supplies were thrown out a long time ago, says Langford, but the structure remains solid.</p><p>&ldquo;We could still use it if we had to,&rdquo; he says.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/gasMeterKyle.jpg" style="width: 610px; height: 405px; margin: 5px;" title="Basement of Chicago Fire Department Engine 60, 1150 E. 55th St. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Local response: private construction</span></p><p>Some patriotic citizens built their own shelters, following the advice of nationally circulated pamphlets and public service announcements preaching vigilance.</p><p>&ldquo;In the event of enemy attack, every item on this list is essential,&rdquo; reads one of the many advertisements placed in Civil Defense literature and popular magazines. Their list includes a personal dosimeter for each member of the family to measure radiation exposure, as well as fire extinguishers, radios, air filters and a toilet for the fallout shelter.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/gilhoolyPermit.png" style="width: 610px; height: 348px; margin: 5px;" /></p><p>In 1961 Bernice Gilhooly built Chicago&rsquo;s first publicly authorized, private fallout shelter. <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/08/22/page/5/article/county-board-oks-building-bomb-shelter" target="_blank">The Chicago Tribune reported Gilhooly planned to spend $3,500 on her subterranean shelter &mdash; almost $28,000 in today&rsquo;s dollars. But, the secretary and mother of three told the newspaper it was worth it</a>:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;Asked if she expected to be the subject of joshing by her neighbors, she said: &#39;I don&#39;t care. A lot of them could look foolish because they didn&#39;t think along the same lines we do.&rdquo; Asked if he planned to build a family shelter, [Mayor Richard J.] Daley replied, &ldquo;After the matter is thoroly [sic] gone over, we will take the necessary steps to protect our family.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>The structure got in the way of property modifications next door, and the shelter was imploded. Today Jim Schaller owns the Bridgeport home, as well as the remains of the bomb shelter.</p><p>&ldquo;It had trundle beds on the wall. It had five gallon glass containers of water. There was a crank to crank air in, air shafts that were sticking out the property next door,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They locked a heavy door, metal door locked on both sides.&rdquo;</p><p>Schaller says he threw out the old supplies. Now he does his laundry by the patched-over drywall that was once home to the shelter&rsquo;s steel vault door. He and his wife never thought to save the shelter, even though they&rsquo;re old enough to remember those anxious days when Cold War missiles were ready to fly.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a novelty is all it was &mdash; a place to put junk,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Another closet.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">What&rsquo;s the use?</span></p><p>In spite of the nation&rsquo;s Cold War preoccupation with preparing for a nuclear attack, many people at the time doubted the shelters&rsquo; effectiveness. They also wondered whether there was any use in preparing for fallout when a blast itself would likely wipe out most Chicagoans before they had a chance to hunker down.</p><p>&ldquo;No other nation, even Russia, is so perturbed about shelters. Could it be that it is propaganda to distract our attention from more immediate problems?&rdquo; <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/10/23/page/18/article/bomb-shelter-hysteria" target="_blank">asked &ldquo;E.H.&rdquo; in a 1961 letter to the Tribune</a>. &ldquo;Let us by all means make our homes as safe as possible, but let us not allow &quot;fallout&quot; to become an obsession with us.&rdquo;</p><p>That helps explain why only a minority of Americans built their own shelter. Add that to the fact that an effective shelter could cost about $2,500 (about half of the median family income in 1961), and you have an explanation for why the nation&rsquo;s brief obsession with bomb-proof shelters translated into relatively few structures.</p><p>&ldquo;For a very brief time there was this frenzy of private shelter building. But even the frenzy was only a small number of people. It never really caught on,&rdquo; says Stephen Schwartz, editor of the<em> <a href="http://cns.miis.edu/npr/index.htm" target="_blank">Nonproliferation Review</a> </em>and adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. &ldquo;I think people just sort of resigned themselves to the fact that if this did happen this was all going to be over pretty quickly. It didn&#39;t matter if you were above ground or below &mdash; you were toast.&rdquo;</p><p>That blend of skepticism and fatalism even spread among public officials.</p><p>&ldquo;Someone asked Chicago&#39;s chief Civil Defense administrator what they should do,&rdquo; says Kenneth Rose. &ldquo;And he said, and I quote, &lsquo;Take cover and pray.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Bernard Kelly, who was the Civil Defense Director of suburban Oak Forest during the early and mid-sixties, says he never thought fallout shelters were an effective response. But the exercises of stocking them and practicing drills proved useful when they needed to deploy responses to natural disasters. And, he says, it was reassuring.</p><p>&quot;There was a general Cold War threat that hung over the nation,&rdquo; he says. &quot;And the alternative was to do nothing. It&#39;s not human nature to do nothing.&quot;</p><p>After President Kennedy called for millions of dollars to stock fallout shelters around the country in 1961, Chicago aldermen and <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/08/22/page/5/article/county-board-oks-building-bomb-shelter" target="_blank">Cook County commissioners</a> decided to <a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1961/08/19/page/9/article/bomb-shelter-rules-set-by-city-council" target="_blank">allow Chicagoans to build their own shelters</a>, in case the public network wasn&rsquo;t enough. A reporter for the <em>Christian Science Monitor </em>was at that meeting:</p><blockquote><p>When aldermen were not harassing the discussion they clipped fingernails are gone towards the ceiling for for the most for the most part paying little attention to the government shelter documents handed them at the beginning of the meeting. Few of them asked to vote for the significant ordinance had ever seen the pertinence data previously. Further indication of the perfunctory action apparently expected of the meeting.</p></blockquote><p>So even at the time, the urgency of the threat varied wildly, depending on who you asked.</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago certainly certainly wasn&#39;t unique here,&rdquo; says Rose. &ldquo;American cities simply were not prepared for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. And we can all thank our lucky stars that this war didn&#39;t happen.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>(See also: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-happened-nike-missile-sites-around-chicago-105087" target="_blank">How Cold War anti-aircraft missiles were stationed across Chicago</a>)&nbsp;</em></p><p>What about today? The U.S.S.R. is no more, and there are far fewer nuclear warheads around now than during the Cold War. But nuclear war is still a possibility. Should we be stocking up and seeking shelter?</p><p>&ldquo;In my opinion,&rdquo; says Rose, &ldquo;living in fear of nuclear war is no way to live a life. And you know there&#39;s plenty of survivalists out there who have spent a lot of money preparing for this ghastly possibility. But as far as I&#39;m concerned that&rsquo;s wasted money, and a wasted way to live your life.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s easy to see fallout shelters as an historical oddity, and even to laugh at people like Bernice Gilhooly, who spent thousands of dollars preparing for a bomb that never dropped. Today we have our own national anxieties &mdash;&nbsp;about airport security, surveillance, terrorism&nbsp;&mdash; with public programs and private responses just as controversial as was a lot of Cold War culture. Someone born today might look back on one of our <a href="http://www.dhs.gov/see-something-say-something" target="_blank">&ldquo;if you see something, say something&rdquo; signs</a> with the same curiosity that drew questioner Kyle Bolyard to that rusty placard announcing a fallout shelter on his drive to work.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Meet our questioner: Kyle Bolyard</span></p><p><img alt="" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/nuclearshelters/kyleBolyardForWeb.jpg" style="width: 330px; height: 248px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="Kyle Bolyard at Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. (Courtesy of Amanda Snyder)" />Kyle and his wife Amanda Snyder both teach at NewHope Academy in Niles. They say they first wondered about fallout shelters in the Chicago area when Kyle teamed up with a literature teacher at NewHope for a humanities class that included a unit on the Cold War. He was hoping to show the class a fallout shelter for a field trip.</p><p>&ldquo;I had them design their own fallout shelter,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Somebody had this huge stack of all the board games they would want to play for weeks &mdash; those kinds of things. A lot of people forgot basic stuff like food and water. But they had games covered.&rdquo;</p><p>Growing up in Edwardsville, Illinois, outside St. Louis, Kyle knew about Nike Missile sites nearby, and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-happened-nike-missile-sites-around-chicago-105087" target="_blank">our story about similar sites in Chicago</a> got him wondering about other Cold War infrastructure that might still have echoes today.</p><p>Now that he&rsquo;s seen some old fallout shelters in person, he&rsquo;s satisfied; yes, he expected many bare concrete walls to be left behind, but he was still a little surprised.</p><p>&ldquo;I wondered if they would still be any supplies left around. It&#39;s interesting to hear that those are all removed at a certain point and these are kind of now being used for different things. I guess I didn&#39;t expect to see them as weight rooms now,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Space is so valuable, especially in Chicago, that you would take any available space like that and do something with it.&rdquo;</p><p>As for his own thoughts on what to have in a personal fallout shelter, Kyle boils it down to this: &ldquo;I think it all depends on who you have down there with you.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist</a> who reports regularly for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow him at <a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/are-there-fallout-shelters-left-chicago-112688 Chicago quietly phasing out red 'X' program http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924 <p><p>Earlier this year, Curious City reported on a small symbol with a big impact on Chicago&rsquo;s built environment. Now we&rsquo;ve got an update.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">In June we brought you the story of Chicago&#39;s red &quot;X&quot;</a> &mdash; sturdy, metal signs that the Chicago Fire Department affixed to 1,804 vacant properties between June 2012 and July 2013. Not every vacant building received a sign, just those that could pose a hazard to firefighters and other first responders in the event of an emergency there.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/010%20%283%29.JPG" style="float: right; height: 206px; width: 275px; margin: 5px;" title="Chicago firefighter Edward Stringer lost his life when a vacant laundromat collapsed during a fire. Mother Joyce Lopez, right, asked what's to happen to a signage program meant to warn first responders about structurally unsound buildings. (Photo courtesy of Michael Torres) " />We <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">reported on the confusion those signs sometimes create</a> in neighborhoods where the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; is a common sight. We also found out the grant money that funded the program had quietly expired. That last part inspired a follow-up question from Joyce Lopez, a reader with a deep personal interest in this story:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>In reference to the red &quot;X&#39;s&quot; on abandoned/vacant, structurally unsound buildings, what can I do to see to it that additional funding is secured?</em></p><p>Lopez is the mother of Edward Stringer, one of two firefighters who died on Dec. 22, 2010 when an abandoned laundromat collapsed on him and dozens more while they swept the burning building for people trapped inside. That incident spurred the creation of the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program in the first place.</p><p>Lopez, who retired to Lavaca, Arkansas, after working in personnel for the Chicago Fire Department, declined to comment for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">our original story</a>. But she is troubled to learn that the program established to prevent tragedies like the one that befell her son appears to have fizzled out.</p><p>So too is Michael Torres, Lopez&rsquo;s other son and Edward Stringer&rsquo;s stepbrother.</p><p>&ldquo;I hope and pray that they have a system in place that would prevent unnecessary deaths of our first responders, like the death of my brother. We feel it was preventable. And the city will always bear a little bit of the blame for that,&rdquo; says Torres. &ldquo;The red &#39;X&#39; program was initiated to prevent that from happening in the future, and I think that pacified us a little bit &hellip; But when we&#39;d been told that the funding dried up, I think that the city&#39;s priorities are mislaid. I&rsquo;m skeptical.&rdquo;</p><p><a>Lopez&nbsp;</a>is in touch with many other &ldquo;survivors&rdquo; who have lost friends and family in the line of duty. She says many of them want to see the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program continue.</p><p>&ldquo;Put me up in front of a building with a can of spray paint,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll put the &#39;X&#39;s up there!&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">From red &ldquo;X&rdquo; to red text</span></p><p>Since <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">our story</a> ran in June, several city officials have said they wanted to see the program continue. Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &ldquo;X&rdquo; ordinance, told us she wanted to find more money for the program. At least since WBEZ first reported that the program had run out of money, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford says they&rsquo;ve been hunting &ldquo;anywhere [they] can&rdquo; for more grant funding.</p><p>But now the department talks about the program in the past tense. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We have not seen where any such money is readily available,&rdquo; says Langford. &ldquo;We did not get new funding and expanded the electronic side of the system to continue the awareness for first responders.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RedX%20Follow-1.jpg" style="margin: 5px; height: 407px; width: 610px;" title="The city affixed 1,804 red X signs to buildings deemed structurally unsound. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee)" /></div><p>The fire department won&rsquo;t put up any new red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs for now, Langford says, but it will continue to register dangerous and structurally unsound buildings in an electronic database called the CAD, or Computer Aided Dispatch system, administered by the city&rsquo;s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).</p><p>In addition to spearheading the ordinance that created the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, Ald. Silverstein also led the charge on requiring more regular data updates for OEMC&rsquo;s CAD system and other databases.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the [red &ldquo;X&rdquo;] program worked well, but there&#39;s no money to fund it,&rdquo; says Silverstein. &ldquo;I trust the Fire Department to take the best course of action to keep firefighters safe, because safety is the most important thing.&rdquo;</p><p>Langford says the electronic system works like this: When dispatch is alerted of a fire at a specific address, they pull up information on that location using the OEMC database. Firefighters print out that information before they leave the firehouse, but it will also appear on firefighters&rsquo; mobile terminals on site &mdash; in red letters.</p><p>So from the firefighter&rsquo;s perspective, Langford says, the electronic information communicates the same information as the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; was designed to provide. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If the [red &ldquo;X&rdquo;] program can be reestablished ... we will see under what conditions,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As it stands now the electronic system will provide redundant and new data.&rdquo;</p><p>The electronic alert system is not dependent on grants, unlike the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, which was funded through a $675,000 award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.</p><p>Why not just apply for that money again? That initial funding was provided through the <a href="http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program" target="_blank">Assistance to Firefighters Grant program</a>, which requires applicants to compete each year for a limited number of awards. Don Mobley, a local fire program specialist for FEMA, said that in 2011 the agency received more than 2,400 applications and gave out grants to just 201.</p><p>We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office several times about City Hall&rsquo;s opinion on the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, and whether any money could be found in state or local budgets to fund the initiative in the future. The office did not return our requests for comment.</p><p>At any rate, Langford says, the electronic database is enough.</p><p>&ldquo;The OEMC system allows us to achieve the goal of protecting firefighters,&rdquo; Langford says, &ldquo;without having to mark buildings.&rdquo;</p><p>If owners of red &ldquo;X&rdquo; buildings bring their property up to code, the Fire Department will still remove the metal signs, Langford says. But no new red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs will go up unless they find new funding, which has proved elusive for 15 months.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Communication and clarity</span></p><p>Meanwhile, in neighborhoods where red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs are common, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">so is confusion over their meaning</a>. We <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">reported earlier this year on myths and misconceptions surrounding the symbol</a>, as well as the impact of this scarlet letter on redevelopment efforts in areas of the city already troubled by disinvestment and foreclosure.</p><p>&ldquo;I can certainly understand how someone would think it means the building&#39;s being demolished or something else,&rdquo; says Ald. Nick Sposato, a former firefighter. While Sposato says he supports the program, he&rsquo;s not sure a red &ldquo;X&rdquo; would keep firefighters out of dangerous situations &mdash; sometimes, he says, that&rsquo;s part of the job. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I know how aggressive Chicago firefighters are,&rdquo; Sposato says. &ldquo;A red &lsquo;X&rsquo; won&#39;t keep them from trying to help someone who might be inside.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="620" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>(Data obtained from the Chicago Fire Department list the 1,804 locations where the city affixed red &quot;X&quot; signs. The last sign was placed in the summer of 2013. Map: <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">See the signs across the city and search by address</a>)</em></p><p>Originally the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; was also designed to inform the community of dangerous conditions in abandoned structures. Now that no new signs will be put up, that communication aspect is lost. But the Fire Department&rsquo;s Larry Langford said back in May that boarded-up and condemned buildings do a good enough job of making that clear without a red &ldquo;X.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;If someone sees a red &#39;X&#39; building they should stay out of it, because legally they&#39;re not allowed to enter it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;But it&#39;s private property anyway, so even if it didn&#39;t have a red &#39;X&#39; you&#39;re not supposed to enter it.&rdquo;</p><p>And just like the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs, the information communicated by the OEMC system isn&rsquo;t meant to rule out entry for first responders, just to advise caution in certain circumstances.</p><p>For our question asker, Joyce Lopez, providing that information to firefighters is the important part, no matter how it reaches them.</p><p>&ldquo;To know they are aware before they get to a structure, that eases my heart at least. Unfortunately they don&#39;t really know what they&#39;re going to encounter when they get to a fire, but if they&#39;re given a little warning, I hope that could help prevent what happened to my son and Corey [Ankum] from happening to someone else,&rdquo; she says. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to see another family, and especially another mother, suffer the loss of her son or daughter,&rdquo; Lopez says, &ldquo;because of something that possibly could have been prevented.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley is a freelance reporter</a> and regular contributor to WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow him at cabentley.com and on Twitter at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"> @Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 12 Oct 2014 17:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924 Chicago's red "X": Meaning, myths and limitations http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/153918243&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: We have an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924" target="_blank">update to this story</a>, which expands on the red &quot;X&quot; program&#39;s lack of funding.</em></p><p>While walking around her Logan Square neighborhood Chicagoan Poppy Coleman noticed something peculiar about two rundown buildings: They bore metal signs emblazoned with a large red &quot;X.&quot;</p><p>Poppy says she wanted to know more, including: &ldquo;Who they were for, maybe what department put them up, and if it was something that I should know about.&rdquo; So, she sent Curious City this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What do those red &quot;X&quot; signs mean on buildings?</em></p><p>She&rsquo;s not the only one who&rsquo;s confused. Since 2012, red &quot;X&quot; signs have popped up on nearly 2,000 properties around Chicago. It&rsquo;s not hard to find <a href="http://www.trulia.com/voices/Home_Buying/Are_the_red_X_buildings_for_sale_-613697" target="_blank">people posting in online forums</a>, wondering aloud whether the red &quot;X&quot; means a building&rsquo;s condemned, vacant or for sale.</p><p>But in the course of reporting an answer for Poppy, we encountered hard questions about the program that supports red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signage, including whether the city&rsquo;s doing enough to communicate its intentions. We also turned up some surprising news: This program, meant to save the lives of first responders and others, has <a href="#money">run out of money</a>.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The sign&rsquo;s origins: A mayday call</span></p><p>On Dec. 22, 2010, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCPw1aiQDO8" target="_blank">firefighters were searching for squatters inside a burning, long-vacant laundromat </a>on the 1700 block of East 75th Street, in Chicago&rsquo;s South Shore neighborhood. As firefighters continued their sweep of the building, a wall fell and then the roof collapsed, killing firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum. Nineteen others were injured.</p><p>&ldquo;When I first became alderman, one of the first visits that I paid was to Fire Chief Mark Neilsen,&rdquo; said 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored two city ordinances in response. The first ordinance, passed in 2011, required the department to catalogue buildings with bowstring truss construction, a <a href="http://www.firefighternation.com/article/firefighter-safety/bowstring-truss-roof-construction-hazards" target="_blank">variety that&rsquo;s prone to collapse during fires</a>.</p><p>Silverstein&rsquo;s second ordinance sought to find and mark all of Chicago&rsquo;s dangerous buildings. For that program they decided on rectangular metal signs displaying a big red &quot;X&quot;, a symbol used by fire departments in New York City and other some other cities. <a href="http://dart.arc.nasa.gov/Recon/BUILDI~1Rev1.pdf" target="_blank">That iconography comes from a federal program for marking vacant structures</a>.</p><p>Chicago doesn&rsquo;t assign red &quot;X&quot; signs to just any vacant or abandoned building; a sign is a visual cue that a structure is structurally unsound and that firefighters and other first responders should take precautions when responding to emergencies there. It&rsquo;s also an extra reminder for anyone who might wander into a vacant building &mdash; which is illegal already &mdash; that they should stay out.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">Making a list</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Trip.jpg" style="width: 350px; float: right; height: 700px;" title="All three vacant buildings are marked with the red X, but display varying levels of disrepair. No signage indicates dangerous, structural disrepair. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee - Kathy Chaney)" /></p><p>Since Silverstein&rsquo;s <a href="http://chicagocouncilmatic.org/legislation/1135934" target="_blank">ordinance</a> passed in June 2012, the Chicago Fire Department has placed red &quot;X&quot; signs on 1,804 buildings. That&rsquo;s less than half of the more than 5,000 vacant properties registered in the city &mdash; itself a fraction of the estimated total of <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/dataset/vacant_and_abandonedbuildingsservicerequests.html" target="_blank">vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago</a> &mdash; but CFD Spokesman Larry Langford says it&rsquo;s a start.</p><p>&ldquo;We picked 1,800 that we wanted to get marked right away,&rdquo; he says. When the program started, Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Buildings sent over a list of structurally unsound properties for CFD to add to as they saw fit. The list from the Department of Buildings included a few hundred properties deemed more than 35 percent deteriorated.</p><p>Langford says &ldquo;It&rsquo;s based on structural damage rotting in some cases, vandalism, previous fire, the overall integrity of the building, what&rsquo;s missing from the building, if there are holes in the floor, porch in bad condition, roof about to go &mdash; things that might make it difficult for a fireman to work the fire, or for the building to come down quickly during a fire.&rdquo;</p><p>That list quickly grew to 1,800. Firemen took note of vacant buildings as they did their rounds, checking out potentially unsafe structures and adding to the initial list of red &quot;X&quot; candidates.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;They&rsquo;re everywhere&rsquo;</span></p><p>Records obtained by WBEZ show the city often put up dozens of signs at a time in parts of the city with a lot of vacant and structurally unsound buildings.</p><p>Poppy Coleman joined Curious City Editor Shawn Allee and reporter Chris Bentley for a short canvas of the South Side&rsquo;s Englewood neighborhood, which has hundreds of buildings sporting the signs.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="620" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html#/?address=7000%20S%20Normal%20Ave%2C%20Chicago%2C%20IL%2C%20United%20States&amp;radius=805interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html" width="620"></iframe></p><blockquote><p><em>(Curious City canvassed portions of the Englewood neighborhood near the intersection of 70th and Normal. There are 55 red &quot;X&quot; signs posted within a half-mile of the intersection. Map: <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">See the signs across the city and search by address</a>)</em></p></blockquote><p>Most of the residents we talked to around the intersection of 70th and South Normal Avenue described waking up to find several houses on their block marked with red &quot;X&quot; signs. The signs never go unnoticed, but neighbors are often confused about what they mean.</p><p>&ldquo;For some reason the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; became something totally different than what we intended it to be,&rdquo; said Langford. &rdquo;I thought they were kidding me when they said it, but some people thought that those were the buildings that were being targeted by the drones when the next war started, and that the red &lsquo;X&rsquo; is a drone target.&rdquo;</p><p>The department has largely left it up to aldermen and their offices to publicize the signs&rsquo; purpose. Langford says people have called to ask the fire department if red &ldquo;X&rdquo; buildings are part of a program by the city to sell distressed property at a discount, or to pillory property owners whose taxes are in arrears.</p><p>&ldquo;It has nothing to do with ownership, it&rsquo;s not a part of any kind of program to do anything with the buildings. For the most part they&rsquo;re privately owned,&rdquo; Langford says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just a marking for danger. It&rsquo;s really just that simple.&rdquo;</p><p>Simple, perhaps, but there&rsquo;s a lot of confusion in areas where red &quot;X&quot;s are common. If these signs are here to save lives &mdash; both those of firefighters and anyone who might think of trespassing on potentially dangerous abandoned properties &mdash; is everyone on the same page?</p><p>There are several red &quot;X&quot; buildings on the 6900 block of S. Normal, where Maria Johnson lives. But her next door neighbor is an abandoned building that doesn&rsquo;t have a red &quot;X&quot;. She says just because a building&rsquo;s deemed vacant doesn&rsquo;t mean it&rsquo;s unoccupied.</p><p>&ldquo;Homeless people, people with nowhere to stay,&rdquo; said Johnson, who has lived on this block for three years. &ldquo;I know they went into the &nbsp;building next to me and someone set it on fire, it caught onto my crib. So I don&rsquo;t know if they were living in there, or getting high, or whatever, but I know there were some homeless people going through the back door.&rdquo;</p><p>There&rsquo;s no signage explaining the red &quot;X&quot; &mdash; just the &ldquo;X&rdquo; itself &mdash; so if you want answers, you have to find them yourself. Most of the people we asked in Englewood thought the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; marked buildings for demolition. Earl Liggins was one of the few people who knew what the signs&rsquo; real meaning, but that&rsquo;s only because he took matters into his own hands.</p><p>&ldquo;I called the alderman&rsquo;s office and I heard it from the alderman people themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I was just concerned because there are so many of them. I was just wondering what does it mean, are they going to tear this many buildings down? I just wanted to know straight from them, what the situation was.&rdquo;</p><p>Liggins lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal that he fixed up a few years ago. But he says whether they have a red &quot;X&quot; or not, most vacant buildings in his neighborhood stay that way.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-3.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Earl Liggins, right, lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal. Fifty-five red ‘X’ buildings lie within half a mile. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>&ldquo;For the most part they stay vacant forever,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The condition of the building gets worse and worse. That building across the street &mdash; I&rsquo;ve been here 10 years and that building has been vacant for about ten years.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Removing the red &lsquo;X&rsquo;</span></p><p>There is a process to rehabilitate vacant and abandoned properties, but the city requires owners to obtain special permission before performing work on red x structures. Two years after the program began, however, <a href="https://www.chicagoreporter.com/reclaiming-avenue" target="_blank">only one building has successfully been repaired and had its red &quot;X&quot; legally removed</a>.</p><p>The next red &quot;X&quot; property to move off the list might be one of the buildings that originally sparked question asker Poppy Coleman&rsquo;s curiosity: 2800 W. Logan Blvd. A fire ravaged the three-story building last summer, but owner Darko Tesanovic <a href="http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/buildingpermit/search/extendedapplicationstatus.htm?permitNumber=100480840" target="_blank">got a city permit</a> earlier this year to repair the damages and turn a ground-floor dwelling unit into retail space. If he finishes the repairs, Tesanovic could be only the second landlord in Chicago to legally remove a red &quot;X&quot; from his building. In the meantime he says the X isn&rsquo;t impeding his redevelopment efforts, but it might be adding to neighborhood anxieties about the vacant property.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not bothered by it,&rdquo; Tesanovic says. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s creating more confusion for the neighborhood than myself, because people in the neighborhood don&rsquo;t know what it means.&rdquo;</p><p>Our question asker was glad to learn what the red &quot;X&quot; means, but she still wonders about its impact. Many of the <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">neighborhoods with high concentrations of red &quot;X&quot; signs</a> are already reeling from a downward spiral of disinvestment, blight and declining property values. She&rsquo;s worried red &quot;X&quot;s are like scarlet letters &mdash; just another obstacle in a rough neighborhood&rsquo;s struggle to improve its station.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-4.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Chicagoan Poppy Coleman, left, asked Curious City about the meaning behind more than 1,800 red ‘X’ signs posted on buildings across Chicago. (WBEZ/Curious City) " /></p><p>&ldquo;My disappointment is that once the &lsquo;X&rsquo; is up, it doesn&rsquo;t sound like there&rsquo;s any support to help move that building to a next phase, either to get it sold, get it taken care of, get it torn down,&rdquo; Coleman says in the shade beside a boarded-up red &quot;X&quot; building on the 7000 block of South Eggleston Avenue. &ldquo;Putting the &lsquo;X&rsquo; on it seems to be where the program stops.&rdquo;</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &quot;X&quot; ordinance, says she&rsquo;d be open to the city forming a task force charged with helping city agencies work together to resuscitate ailing properties after the fire department marks them.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not aware of any talk about the different departments working together specifically on the red &quot;X&quot;, but I highly encourage that,&rdquo; Silverstein says. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re all better off if all the different departments work together and form a task force to solve some of these issues. That&rsquo;s really important to get things taken care of.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><a name="money"></a>Out of money</span></p><p>While in Englewood, we ask the CFD&#39;s Larry Langford whether it makes sense to let the public know more about the meaning behind the &quot;X&quot; &mdash;maybe by putting up a smaller, less permanent sign explaining it&#39;s dangerous to enter such buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;If we expand the program, that&rsquo;s a suggestion that will be made,&quot; he says. &quot;It might cut some of the confusion down. Put a permanent sign up, put an adhesive sign up &mdash; could be.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Whether they&rsquo;ll get a chance to do that is an open question, because this program that was meant to save lives has run out of money. The city received $675,000 from <a href="http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program" target="_blank">the Federal Emergency Management Agency&rsquo;s Assistance to Firefighters grant program</a> to fund the red &quot;X&quot; program. Most of that federal grant money went to two local contractors: AGAE Contractors and M-K Signs.</p><p>Data obtained by WBEZ show the city spent all of that money over thirteen months starting in June of 2012, and <a href="http://wbez.is/1uNLXMp" target="_blank">hasn&rsquo;t put up any new red &quot;X&quot; signs since July 2013</a>.</p><p>Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &ldquo;X&rdquo; ordinance, says she&rsquo;s eager to find more money for the program. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We wish it would be funded for a longer period of time, but yes we think it was a success,&rdquo; says the CFD&rsquo;s Larry Langford. &ldquo;Are there more than 1,800 that could be marked? Absolutely. But we&rsquo;re not doing anything until we get more funding.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/shawnallee" target="_blank">Shawn Allee</a> is Curious City&#39;s editor. <a href="https://twitter.com/chrishagan" target="_blank">Chris Hagan</a> is a WBEZ web producer and data expert, and&nbsp;</em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/kathychaney" target="_blank">Kathy Chaney</a>&nbsp;is a WBEZ producer.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315 Emanuel: ‘No threat to Chicago,’ marathon will go on http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-%E2%80%98no-threat-chicago%E2%80%99-marathon-will-go-106680 <p><p>Chicago City Hall was quiet on Tuesday as Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that &ldquo;there is no threat to (the city).&rdquo; Security officials around the city and at its two major airports, however, remain on alert following deadly twin bomb blasts at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/boston-bombs-said-be-made-pressure-cookers-106656">yesterday&rsquo;s Boston Marathon</a>.<br /><br />Even though Emanuel reiterated there is no &ldquo;credible threat&rdquo; to the city, he urged Chicagoans to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious. The mayor said he met this morning at City Hall with his top cabinet officials in the police and fire departments, as well as the head of the city&rsquo;s emergency communications center.<br /><br />Emanuel added he called Boston Mayor Thomas Menino yesterday to offer his support, following the bombings that have killed three people and injured more than 170 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.<br /><br />&ldquo;While it was a horrific event, it showed the best of this country,&rdquo; Emanuel said, adding: &ldquo;I think everybody was heartfelt for the residents of the city of Boston, so I wanted to make sure that they knew that our resources were available if they needed them.&rdquo;<br /><br />Security at Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall didn&rsquo;t seem stricter than normal Tuesday, save for the presence of two Chicago cops on horseback who were stationed on LaSalle Street. The Chicago Police Department did not immediately offer details as to what additional security measures might be in place.</p><p>Emanuel also insisted the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, set for October 13, will go ahead as planned. In a statement Tuesday, Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski said race organizers have been in contact with the city&rsquo;s public safety agencies since yesterday&rsquo;s bombings.</p><p>&ldquo;As our top priority, we work in lockstep with these agencies to ensure the safest possible event for everyone involved. As we do each year and throughout the year, we will sit down with these agencies and conduct a comprehensive security review as part of the planning process for this year&rsquo;s event,&rdquo; the statement reads.</p><p>Meanwhile, security adjustments at area airports were more overt.<br /><br />&ldquo;Passengers traveling through Chicago&rsquo;s airports today may notice a more visible presence of Chicago police officers, canine units and aviation security officers,&rdquo; Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham explained.<br /><br />Cunningham said the department would continue to work closely with local and federal agencies on safety and security matters.<br /><br />The Department of Homeland Security said it would continue to keep in place enhanced security measures at transportation hubs. Meanwhile the Transportation Security Administration is set to allow airline passengers to carry small folding knives on planes later this month.<br /><br />The policy change is the first shift of its kind since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.</p><p><em>Al Keefe is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him at <a href="http://twitter.com/akeefe">@akeefe</a>. </em></p></p> Tue, 16 Apr 2013 17:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-%E2%80%98no-threat-chicago%E2%80%99-marathon-will-go-106680 Fire and Ice: South Side warehouse may take days to extinguish http://www.wbez.org/news/fire-and-ice-south-side-warehouse-may-take-days-extinguish-105090 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickr_ropesack.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><object height="460" width="607"><param name="flashvars" value="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fsearch%2Fshow%2F%3Fq%3Dbridgeportfireice&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fsearch%2F%3Fq%3Dbridgeportfireice&amp;method=flickr.photos.search&amp;api_params_str=&amp;api_text=bridgeportfireice&amp;api_tag_mode=bool&amp;api_media=all&amp;api_sort=relevance&amp;jump_to=&amp;start_index=0" /><param name="movie" value="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124984" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><embed allowfullscreen="true" flashvars="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fsearch%2Fshow%2F%3Fq%3Dbridgeportfireice&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fsearch%2F%3Fq%3Dbridgeportfireice&amp;method=flickr.photos.search&amp;api_params_str=&amp;api_text=bridgeportfireice&amp;api_tag_mode=bool&amp;api_media=all&amp;api_sort=relevance&amp;jump_to=&amp;start_index=0" height="460" src="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124984" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="607"></embed></object></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F76306945&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Updated: 1:30 p.m. </em></p><p>It will take several days for a fire in an abandoned South Side warehouse to be totally extinguished.</p><p>Across the street a deluge unit is shooting 4,000 gallons of water a minute onto the massive Bridgeport structure, which has turned into an ice-caked building that looks like it was dipped in frost. Located in an industrial district at 37th and Ashland, the edifice is a surreal site slicked in ice. Smoke billows from atop.</p><p>&ldquo;For safety reasons we have to stay back a little bit so we can&rsquo;t get right to the scene of the fire but we have it contained, it&rsquo;s not going to go anywhere. But it is a dangerous time. ... We have the firefighters as far back as we can,&rdquo; said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago Thursday morning.</p><p>The fire erupted on Tuesday evening and rekindled on Thursday. Currently, 40 firefighters are on the scene, down from 170 when the fire first erupted.&nbsp; One firefighter suffered a minor injury.</p><p>Santiago said the cause of the fire is unknown and conditions aren&rsquo;t safe yet to enter the building. Inside, there were many early collapses. Below-zero temperatures have made putting out the fire difficult. A crane will knock down part of the warehouse on Friday, Santiago said. This is the largest fire the city has seen in years.</p><p>Chicago has a <a href="http://chicagobuildings.org/" target="_blank">plethora of vacant buildings</a> &mdash; residential and commercial, which can cause safety concerns.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re always concerned about vacant structures like this. We always want to get the word out there you have to keep them closed. We do have some people who may not have a place to stay and they sometimes go into these structures, start small fires to go ahead and warm themselves,&rdquo; Santiago said.</p><p>The fire commissioner said the CFD works with the city building department on structurally-unsound buildings. A red &ldquo;x&rdquo; is displayed on the building so first responders know it could be a danger.</p><p>Onlookers braved frosty temperatures to get a look at the still-smoldering, ice-encrusted warehouse at 3757 S. Ashland Ave. in the city&rsquo;s Bridgeport neighborhood on Wednesday.</p><p>Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford said the building will be demolished once all the fires inside are extinguished.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s turning into an ice castle,&rdquo; Langford said in a phone interview, describing the building as &ldquo;something from bombed-out Europe.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve never seen this sight before. Wow, holy cow, seems like something worth photographing [...] Very surreal,&rdquo; said Tom Vasilj, who described himself as a video editor and amateur photographer.</p><p>First Deputy Fire Commissioner Charles Stewart III says frigid temperatures made the fire more difficult to handle.</p><p>The Chicago Transit Authority brought in warming buses so that firefighters could seek relief from the cold. City crews also are working to salt the roads around the building to help deal with the build-up of ice.</p><p>The vacant warehouse is located in a section of Chicago called the Central Manufacturing District. It&rsquo;s one of the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/lee-bey/architecture-chicagos-first-office-park" target="_blank">city&rsquo;s first office parks</a>, according to Lee Bey, WBEZ contributor and Executive Director of the Chicago Central Area Committee.</p><p>&ldquo;The Central Manufacturing District that was once so bustling it had its own police force and its own transportation inside of it and now none of that is there, obviously,&rdquo; Bey said.</p><p>Many companies moved their businesses away from the area for the suburbs near the middle of the 20th century.</p><p><em>Scott Kanowsky contributed to this report. </em></p></p> Wed, 23 Jan 2013 08:05:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fire-and-ice-south-side-warehouse-may-take-days-extinguish-105090 Veteran Chicago paramedics reflect on 38 years of saving lives http://www.wbez.org/news/veteran-chicago-paramedics-reflect-38-years-saving-lives-103815 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F67532804&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Back in 1974, a couple of twenty-something adrenaline junkies both saw the same ad in the newspaper. The City of Chicago was hiring for a position with the job title &quot;para medics.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>That&#39;s how Tony Scipione and Gunther Kettenbeil became part of the first paramedic crews in the city. They&#39;ve been at it ever since &ndash;&nbsp;until this week when they retired after 38 years on the job.</p><p>When the two started in the mid &#39;70s, most people had never even heard the term &lsquo;paramedic.&rsquo; People relied on private ambulances or ill-equipped responders from the fire department. The system was so primitive that Kettenbeil had to bring his own stethoscope&nbsp;and blood pressure cuff to work. Firefighters scoffed at the equipment and called it his &quot;bag of tricks.&quot;</p><p>Scipione said emergency responders were mostly making it up as they went along.</p><p>&ldquo;At that time firemen were only carrying in oxygen tanks and maybe a couple roller bandages stuffed into their pocket,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t have a lot of equipment. Either we didn&rsquo;t have it, or it was nonexistent at the time. There were many of the ambulances that were just Cadillac Ambulances if you were lucky, or a station wagon.&rdquo;</p><p>Once, Scipione showed up for a shift and instead of an ambulance or station wagon, all they had for him was a sedan.&nbsp;Just put the patients in the backseat, he was told. Kettenbeil said city hospitals weren&rsquo;t sure what to expect from the new paramedics either.</p><p>&quot;They were so worried things would not work right they had nurses ride with us for a week just to to make sure that these single role medics knew what to do,&quot; Kettenbeil said.<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Gunther Kettenbeil" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gunther_kettenbeil.JPG" style="height: 207px; width: 310px; margin: 10px; float: right;" title="Gunther Kettenbeil retired this week after 38 years as a paramedic and firefighter in Chicago. He was part of the first paramedic crew the city hired in 1974. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ)" /></div><p>Since then, the job has changed dramatically &ndash;&nbsp;from station wagon backseats to high-tech ambulances &ndash;&nbsp;but one thing has remained the same: EMS workers still often put their own lives on the line to save others.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think there&rsquo;s a paramedic on this job now that hasn&rsquo;t risked their lives and been in a situation where it was a close call,&rdquo; Kettenbeil said.</p><p>Scipione remembers one particularly harrowing night during a snowstorm, when he responded to&nbsp;a car accident on Lake Shore Drive.</p><p>&ldquo;I positioned the ambulance in such a way so that people would see it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Or so I thought.&rdquo;</p><p>He and his partner took two injured people into the ambulance. Scipione headed back to the car.</p><p>As he checked on the driver, Scipione noticed a car approaching from the corner of his eye.</p><p>&ldquo;And I thought -- I don&rsquo;t think this person can see us,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;ll tell you, if I didn&rsquo;t jump in on that woman&rsquo;s lap, I would be dead. Because he literally took off the door of the automobile as he went past.&rdquo;</p><p>The driver, blinded by the snow, skidded to a stop. Everyone survived.</p><p>&ldquo;But I remember my partner sticking her head out the window saying &lsquo;Tony, what was all that noise?&rsquo; As my heart was going 240, thinking I just almost lost my life,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;And the women in the car (was) looking at me like &lsquo;What the hell are you doing?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Scipione said it wasn&rsquo;t uncommon for paramedics to encounter all kinds of dangerous situations in the early days.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been shot at,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been chased with knives.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Held hostage,&rdquo; Kettenbeil added. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been held hostage, shot at on both sides (of the job), the firefighter and paramedic side.&rdquo;</p><p>But no matter how tough the neighborhood, when they got a call that someone&rsquo;s grandmother was having a heart attack or a kid was having an asthma attack, they were almost always given space to do their jobs.</p><p>Scipione said responding to emergencies all over Chicago&nbsp;&ndash;&nbsp;from projects like Cabrini-Green to the highest-priced condos in the city &ndash;&nbsp;made him realize something early on.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re all the same,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;Doesn&rsquo;t matter where you come from. We all have the same hopes and dreams and wishes.&rdquo;</p><p>When they started, there were only about 20 ambulances in the city. There&rsquo;s more than triple that amount now.&nbsp;Scipione said less Chicago residents are dying from asthma attacks, strokes and even gunshot wounds thanks to better technology, medications and training for EMS workers.</p><p>But the hours haven&#39;t changed. It&#39;s still a grueling 24-hour shift, where paramedics are lucky to get a lunch break.</p><p>&ldquo;Lot of times we would have food on the go,&rdquo; Kettenbeil said. &ldquo;I learned to put everything on a sandwich, including spaghetti. Eating was on the way to the next call.&rdquo;</p><p>After a stressful day of work, most folks have the option of stopping off at a bar. But paramedics get off work at 8 a.m., so Scipione said they would often blow off steam over breakfast.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody would talk about what they saw, just talk about it to get it out,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Because you know if you tried to go home and tell your wife...they didn&rsquo;t understand what we were saying. Where you could talk to another paramedic and they knew where you were coming from. One minute, you&rsquo;re dealing with bringing life into the world. The next minute, you&rsquo;re dealing with somebody dying.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite starting out together, the pioneering paramedics worked apart for most of their careers. Then six years ago, Scipione was reassigned to a firehouse on the Northwest side.&nbsp;When he showed up, there was his old pal, Kettenbeil.</p><p>It only seemed natural that they should retire together. Their final shift was November 12, the same day they started in the department back in 1974.</p><p>&ldquo;Gunther had a whole head of red hair and I had a whole head of black hair that we don&rsquo;t have anymore,&rdquo; Scipione laughed. &ldquo;Things change a little bit. Got a little bit older, a little bit wiser.&rdquo;</p><p>Scipione said he&rsquo;s a little nervous about retirement.</p><p>&ldquo;I really believe that the feeling that I&rsquo;m feeling today... is exactly the same feeling that I felt the day I was hired,&rdquo; Scipione said. &ldquo;The excitement, the uncertainty of not knowing (what&rsquo;s next). Because I don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p><p>But Kettenbeil said he knows what&rsquo;s next. He and his wife are going fishing.</p></p> Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/veteran-chicago-paramedics-reflect-38-years-saving-lives-103815 A Halloween story: The mystery of the ghostly handprint http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/halloween-story-mystery-ghostly-handprint-103316 <p><p>April 18, 1924 was a Friday. At 7:30 in the evening, a passerby noticed smoke coming from Curran Hall, a massive four-story brick building at 1363 South Blue Island Avenue. The man ran to the corner fire-alarm box and pulled the lever.</p><p>Two miles to the west, at Engine Company #107, fireman Francis Leavy was washing a window. The call came in and Leavy rushed out with the rest of the company. He told the captain he&rsquo;d finish the window when they got back.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-31--Chicago%20firemen%2C%201924%20%28LofC-CDN%29.jpg" title="Chicago firemen at work, 1924 (Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>Five squads converged on Curran Hall. The blaze seemed to be minor. The firemen were getting it under control when one of the outer walls began buckling. Then it collapsed, trapping eight men.</p><p>The falling wall knocked out electrical power at the site. Portable lighting was brought in, while firemen combed the wreckage for their comrades. But all eight men had been killed. Among the dead was Francis Leavy.</p><p>It was later determined that Curran Hall had been deliberately torched for the insurance. The building owners were tried and convicted of the crime.</p><p>Now for the rest of the story . . .</p><p>The day after the fire, one of the men at Engine Company #107 noticed the window that Leavy had left half-washed. In the middle of the window was a handprint. The man tried scrubbing it out, but the handprint stayed.</p><p>From that time forward, so the legend goes, every fireman assigned to Engine Company #107 attempted to remove the handprint. They used water, soap, ammonia and acid; they scraped it with razor blades. Nothing worked.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-31--handprint%20%281-11-39%29.jpg" title="The ghostly handprint in 1939 (Chicago Daily Times)" /></div><p>The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company was called in. My dad was a glazier at PPG, though years later. The way he heard the story, PPG applied their strongest chemical solvents to the handprint&ndash;and still couldn&rsquo;t remove it.</p><p>Was the handprint a ghostly souvenir of the dead fireman? It&rsquo;s said that Leavy&rsquo;s thumbprint was obtained from his personnel records, and compared with the print on the window. They matched perfectly.</p><p>The end of the tale is prosaic. A newsboy threw a paper through the window and broke it. Most accounts say this happened in 1946.</p><p>But one version claims that the window was broken on April 18, 1944 &ndash; 20 years to the day of Francis Leavy&rsquo;s death.</p></p> Wed, 31 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/halloween-story-mystery-ghostly-handprint-103316 One-on-one with Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/one-one-chicago-fire-commissioner-jose-santiago-98826 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Commissioner%20Santiago.JPG" style="float: left; width: 267px; height: 400px; " title="(WBEZ/Eilee Heikenen-Weiss)">When Chicago Fire Department Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff resigned earlier this year, Mayor Emanuel chose another longtime Chicagoan to lead the department. Jose Santiago has some 33 years with the Chicago Fire Department, but that might not have been the case without some prodding from his “fire buff” friends decades ago.</div></div></div><p>“They loved the fire department, I had no clue what the fire department was,” Santiago told host Steve Edwards Friday on <em>Afternoon Shift</em>.</p><p>At that time, Santiago already had a job, and he wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a fire fighter. His friends—impressed by his physical physique from being a reserve Marine—persisted. They bought him a ticket to take the entrance exam, and he passed with flying colors.</p><p>Santiago takes over leadership of the department during a time when a lot is on the line. NATO comes to Chicago in just over two weeks, contract talks have started with the Chicago Firefighters Union, and diversity within the department continues to be an issue, all of which he addressed in his interview.</p></p> Fri, 04 May 2012 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-05/one-one-chicago-fire-commissioner-jose-santiago-98826 Emanuel appoints new Fire Department commissioner http://www.wbez.org/story/emanuel-appoints-new-fire-department-commissioner-96490 <p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday he's appointing 33-year firefighter veteran Jose Santiago as the new commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department.</p><p>The announement came the same day current Commissioner Rober Hoff publicly announced his resignation as head of the department.</p><p>Santiago currently serves as Deputy Fire Commisioner for the Chicago Fire Department. He also served briefly as executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications from March 2010 to June 2011, and spent 31 years in the Marine Corps.</p><p>Santiago praised outgoing Commissioner Hoff for his service to the Fire Department, and promised upon his appointment to "ensure this office reflects the diversity of ideas and backgrounds and ideas of this great city."</p><p>Hoff served in the Fire Department for 35 years and was appointed as Commissioner in 2010 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. A third-generation Chicago firefighter, Hoff has been honored twice with the Carter Harrison Award, one of the Fire Department's two most prestigious awards.</p><p>Hoff said his decision to step down was "personal," and not fueld by policy disagreements with Emanuel. He said he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren.</p><p>"What is more beautiful in life is to spend time with them?" said Hoff as he pointed to his wife, son and two grandsons, who stood with him as he announced his resignation. "This job is very time consuming. And I'll be honest with you, I need to spend more time with them."</p><p>Published reports from a city budget hearing last October say Hoff told City Council he was "deathly against" Mayor Emanuel's suggestions to close some firehouses and reduce the number of men on each truck to save money.</p><p>When asked whether he was against the mayor's budget-cutting proposals, Santiago skirted the question.</p><p>"There's many many different studies on what is safe and not," said Santiago. "That's what we've been working on, taking in all that information, and we'll make a determination based on safety."</p><p>Santiago's appointment still needs to approved by the City Council.</p></p> Thu, 16 Feb 2012 23:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/emanuel-appoints-new-fire-department-commissioner-96490 Chicago Fire Department makes system updates one year after fatal blaze http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-fire-department-makes-system-updates-one-year-after-fatal-blaze-95096 <p><p>One year after two firefighters died fighting a blaze on the city's South Side, the Chicago Fire Department says it's made key updates to help keep responders safer.</p><p>Deputy Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said on Wednesday that firefighters are now alerted before leaving the station if a building is considered "dangerous." Santiago also said updates to the agency's digital radio system are close to being finished.</p><p>"They [the radios] have to be perfect for safety reasons. People talk on those things. Digital is all brand new throughout the fire services in the country. We're making sure ours are as best as we can get them," said Santiago.</p><p>The Fire Department was criticized after last year's incident for not having enough communication with the men inside the burning building.</p><p>In July, federal investigators with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health complied a report that said commanders outside the building didn’t have enough communication with the men inside who were fighting the fire. The report also criticized the CFD for not giving every firefighter a personal radio, and for not having a system whereby firefighters could easily identify structurally unsafe buildings before entering them.</p></p> Wed, 21 Dec 2011 23:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-fire-department-makes-system-updates-one-year-after-fatal-blaze-95096