CHICAGO-While police and fire officials sifted through charred remains of the 29th floor to determine the cause of Monday night’s blaze at 135 S. LaSalle St., LaSalle Bank employees and building management got kudos for paying attention to most of their disaster training. Unlike the October 2003 high-rise fire at 69 W. Washington Blvd. that killed six Cook County employees, there were no fatalities Monday night even though 23 firefighters were among those taken to area hospitals during more than five hours battling the blaze.

The fire department’s public education unit visited the 45-story, 1.4-million-sf bank headquarters Oct. 21 to conduct a drill, fire commissioner Cortez Trotter reported. “This is one of the buildings we’ve been able to reach out to and conduct these drills,” he said during a press conference Tuesday.

In addition, the building’s management team from Jones Lang LaSalle and engineering staff also cooperated by sharing floor plans with firefighters as well as developing a disaster plan. “They had a working knowledge of the building, they had a working knowledge of the plans and a working knowledge of the fire department’s expectations,” Trotter said.

Also unlike the Cook County Administration building, stairwell doors do not lock behind occupants using them, Trotter noted. The building also was being retrofitted for a sprinkler system, something that is likely to be required by the city council later this month. “Some of the things they had in place were not even required,” Trotter said of 135 S. LaSalle St.

About 500 employees were in the building in the early evening hours Monday night, and they largely heeded one of the fire department’s tenets–stay in place as long as possible until help arrives. The department’s rapid ascent team was able to find employees trapped on the upper floors and usher them to safety.

However, Trotter usually would rather not see windows opened, or broken from the inside. Some workers opened windows in the 70-year-old building, saying later they did so believing it was a matter of life or death. That often fuels a fire, Trotter said, but noted the open windows tended to be far from the 29th-floor source.

With hardwood floors, as well as computers and other office equipment in the bank’s trust department, there was plenty of fuel to be had, Trotter noted. The department, which had 450 firefighters and one-third of its equipment at the scene, also was hampered by fighting a high-rise fire on narrow LaSalle Street.

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