Chicago Fire Department Announces Reforms After Fatal High-Rise Blaze

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CHICAGO (AP) _ To prevent another high-rise disaster, the Chicago Fire Department will increase training, require annual physical fitness testing for veteran firefighters and assign a team of firefighters to search-and-rescue duties during high-rise fires, according to a published report.

The changes come nearly a year after fire department mistakes contributed to six deaths at a fire in the Cook County Administration Building in downtown Chicago.

``The bottom line is that we're going back to school on high-rise firefighting _ everybody,'' Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter told the Chicago Sun-Times in Monday's editions. ``Every person in the department will receive a significant number of hours in incident command training. Every firefighter and paramedic will have gone through training that includes a hands-on exercise before this order becomes effective.''

Trotter planned to announce the changes at a Monday news conference.

Chicago firefighters have been conducting top-to-bottom stairway searches since the Oct. 17 fire at 69 W. Washington, when there was a 90-minute gap between the time firefighters arrived on the scene and the time the bodies of six victims were found.

Under the changes, Trotter said the department will assign personnel solely for seach-and-rescue operations.

``This new order affixes accountability and responsibility. It's very, very detailed,'' Trotter said.

Since Trotter took over the department nearly five months ago, the Fire Department has sent 75 top officials to school for eight-hour classes. Plans call for more fire personnel to receive additional training.

``Although fires are down and high-rise fires are rarities, only with continued education and continued training can we be ready to fight these fires,'' Trotter said.

In July, a county-appointed commission that investigated the downtown fire released a 94-page report that blistered the parties involved for their ``actions or inactions'' that ``contributed to the loss of life and serious injuries.''

Firefighters were criticized for failing to simultaneously fight the fire and conduct a top-to-bottom stairway search. That caused the 90-minute gap that has been the focus of a lawsuit by the victims' families. The lawsuit was amended last week to include the city and county.

The commission also cited what it called the department's inadequate training and promotions policies, a lack of physical fitness standards and a communications breakdown.