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CHICAGO-Fire ripped through the 29th floor of the LaSalle Bank building at 135 S. LaSalle St. Monday evening, little more than a year after a similar blaze claimed the lives of six people trapped in stairwells at the Cook County Administration building at 69 W. Washington Blvd. Area hospitals treated 25 persons, 12 of them firefighters, for injuries and smoke inhalation from the five-alarm blaze.

A fire department spokesman reported 13 of the injuries were serious, eight of them firefighters. Ten people were in fair condition and two more in good condition Monday night. More than 300 firefighters and one-third of the departments equipment were on the scene late into the night battling the blaze and were getting ready to determine its cause early Tuesday morning.

Observers note there were major differences between Monday night and the Cook County Administration building tragedy. Doors in stairwells did not lock behind tenants, as they did at the County Administration building, and firefighters quickly took control of the building at a first-floor command center. Workers were told to stay in their offices until firefighters arrived, including those on the on the upper 15 floors above the blaze, then were led out of the smoke-filled building.

The 70-year-old concrete and steel building, which underwent a renovation in the early 1990s, reportedly was being retrofitted for a sprinkler system, but was reported to be relying on a standpipe system Monday. Coincidentally, the city council’s building committee is scheduled to consider an ordinance Friday morning requiring commercial high-rise buildings be retrofitted for sprinklers over the next 12 years.

Firefighters also were hampered by having to battle a high-rise blaze on the relatively narrow, and canyon-like, LaSalle Street. The fire on the 29th floor, which houses the bank’s trust department, was reported around 6:30 p.m., after most of the approximately 3,000 LaSalle Bank employees working there had left for the day. However, a bank spokesman says the 1.4-million-sf, 45-story building is occupied around the clock, with an estimated 500 still there in the early evening. The building, which has served as headquarters for ABN AMRO unit LaSalle Bank, will be closed today.

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