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Flat Roof / Truss Roof Collapses on Chicago’s Southside

The following article first appeared on the CBS News website on 12/22/10.  Despite the fact that this building was abandon, it still shows that even if you have a flat roof, it can still be subject to collapse if it’s not properly maintained. It also shows that, if you have a truss roof ( the roofs that are the most “collapse prone”), you ought to have it regularly checked for routine roof maintenance. If a fire breaks out in your home, will your roof be strong enough?

“As fires go, the one that broke out Wednesday in a small vacant building on the city’s South Side was likely to be pretty routine for the Chicago Fire Department.

Instead, it caused the deaths of two firefighters, trapped under debris with two others when a wall and roof collapsed, and injured 17.

In an eerie coincidence, it happened on the 100th anniversary of the Union Stock Yards fire, which killed 21 Chicago firefighters when a wall collapsed and stood as one of America’s worst tragedies for firefighter deaths until the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The call about the trapped firefighters interrupted a memorial service Wednesday honoring the Stock Yards fire victims.

“We were ringing the bell and calling out the names. We heard a mayday on the radio that a wall had fallen in,” said retired fireman Bill Cosgrove.

Most of the firemen broke down in tears when they found out about the collapse, he said.

“It was beyond disbelief,” Cosgrove said. “It was a matter of a few hours and a hundred years later we have the same type of incident.”

He said two firemen at the memorial left to help rescue the trapped firefighters. Other off-duty firefighters rushed there as well to help dig out their colleagues, said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

They joined more than 170 other firefighters on duty who responded to an emergency call about the burning building just before dawn Wednesday, Langford said.

He said no one expected the call to be anything more than a routine winter-time fire.

Although the one-story building had been vacant for years and the utilities had been turned off, there was some concern that homeless people might be inside trying to stay warm. Firefighters were searching for any squatters when the building’s heavy-timbered roof collapsed. There weren’t any there, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds. Langford said a wall also collapsed.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Authorities speculated that squatters might have been burning debris to keep warm.

“The fire had no other way of starting,” Langford said.

He said the only people injured were firefighters.

Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff identified the firefighters who died as Corey Ankum, who had been on the job less than two years and was assigned to Tower Ladder 34, and Edward Stringer, who had been in on the job 12 years and was assigned to Engine Company 63, detailed to Truck 16.

Hoff said six firefighters were taken to the hospital in critical condition, 10 in stable condition.

A witness told CBS 2 that three firefighters were on a ladder fighting a fire at a vacant cleaners, and when the roof caved in, they were sucked in.

The most seriously injured were inside the burning building when the roof and a wall collapsed. Others were injured while searching for them.

It was unclear why the building’s roof and wall collapsed. Hoff said snow, ice, and the building’s age could have contributed.

The fire broke out about 7 a.m., fire Media Affairs spokesman Will Knight said.

By 7:24 a.m., the alarm had been elevated to a 3-11 and an EMS Plan 2, which automatically sends about ten ambulances to the scene, was in effect, Knight said.

The building had a flat roof in the front and a bow-string truss roof in the back. While truss roofs often pose a danger of collapsing during fires, Hoff said fire crews decided to enter the building for a precautionary search because the fire was in an office area well below the ceiling.

“When you find an open door in the rear of the building, again, in this weather, we can go into any building somehwere and find someone inside taking refuge,” Hoff said.

A “mayday” call was issued during the blaze, as four firefighters were reportedly missing for a period of time. All were eventually accounted for, officials said.

Firefighters were reportedly hampered by frozen hydrants as they battled the blaze.

The flames were out by 8:35 a.m.”

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