Family, Co-Workers Friends Mourn Victim of High-Rise Fire

Captain: Open apartment door let heat, smoke spread

The victim of a high-rise fire early Sunday morning is being mourned by her friends, family and co-workers.

Shantel McCoy, 32, was believed to have been killed instantly when she got off the elevator on the 12th floor of her building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive, unaware that there was a fire on her floor.

Video cameras show that McCoy entered the building less than five minutes before the first fire companies arrived, NBC Chicago has learned.

McCoy's boss at Wirtz Beverage, Jeff Roth, said he was immediately struck by her "can-do attitude." She had been working as a sales co-ordinator in the Schaumburg office since August.

"In a large company to have that kind of impact in a really short time, it really shows what kind of light she was," Roth said.

McCoy moved to Chicago less than a year ago from her native Philadelphia.

The fire started in an occupied apartment on the 12th floor, according to Chicago Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva. A man and woman who live there were able to make it out with their dog, but they left their front door open, Roccasalva said. Had they closed it, according to the chief, McCoy might have survived.

The fire also injured nine other people, including two firefighters.

"If the fire is in your apartment, we tell people to get out and close the door. Each unit is a compartment to itself," Roccasalva said. "It has rated fire walls that abut each other, and into the hallway, and a rated fire door. Usually, it's a 90 minute door. So that would have held back the heat and a lot of the smoke until we got up there."

"The door to the apartment where the fire started was not closed, and the super-heated toxic gasses all got into the hallway there," Roccasalva said. "The heat in there is probably 1,500 to 2,000 degrees at the ceiling. And if she was standing in the elevator, she probably got it full, right on."

The residential high-rise building was built before 1975. It does not have a connected system of fire alarms and no sprinklers except in the garage, the fire captain said. That means when one smoke alarm goes off, others in the building will not necessarily do so.

The building was not yet required to update its fire alarm system, Roccasalva said. An ordinance was passed that required older high-rises to be retrofitted with a modern, connected system by this month. However, a Building Department spokesperson told the Tribune that the City Council recently put off that deadline until 2015.

People who live above and below the 12th floor confirmed that they did not hear fire alarms going off.

Nine other people were hurt, including two firefighters. One of the victims was critically injured. Of the firefighters, one had minor injuries to his arm. The other firefighter was in serious condition with exhaustion.

Roccasalva said that because the elevators would not all return to the lobby when crews arrived, firefighters had to lug their equipment up 12 flights of stairs to attack the fire.

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