A woman who had moved to Chicago last March died early today after she unwittingly went up an elevator as a fire was blasting through the 12th floor of the high-rise apartment where she lived, officials said.
When the doors to the elevator opened, Shantel McCoy -- who was returning to her apartment with a bag of food -- was hit with 1,500-degree temperatures from gas and fire fumes and killed, said Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva, a department spokesman.
The fire in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood also injured nine others early Sunday morning, according to authorities.
Firefighters were called to the 21-story building at 3130 North Lake Shore Dr. about 2 a.m., said Roccasalva.
The fire began in a unit on the 12th floor. A man and woman were awoken by their smoke detector and noticed that the fire was tearing through their living room, said Roccasalva.
The man and woman along with a dog managed to escape the apartment but the door to the unit did not close, which allowed the fire to spread through the hallway, he said. The man was treated for smoke inhalation while the woman refused medical attention, he said. It is believed that the dog survived.
"The door of the apartment that was on fire didn't close when they left and all the heat and gases and smoke poured into the hallway. When the elevator door opened up, she just got blasted," said Roccasalva.
Officials with the Cook County medical examiner's office determined today that McCoy died of carbon monoxide intoxication and inhalation of smoke and soot.
Older residential buildings in Chicago are not required to have sprinkler systems installed, according to the city. Older residential buildings can either install sprinkler systems or they can be evaluated and other safety upgrades can be put in place, according to a building department spokesman.
The city council recently passed an extension which put off until 2015 the deadline for when building owners need to have the work done, according to the spokesman. The deadline for the implementation process had been set for this month.
An employee of the building’s management company, Planned Property Management, declined to comment at the scene. The company’s president and chief executive officer, Robert Buford, was appointed to the city’s Community Development Commission in July.
McCoy, 32, had moved from Philadelphia to Chicago after she had been laid off from her job the previous year with an accounting firm in Philadelphia. She was looking for a new place to start over, said her mother JoAnn.
"She said, I'm moving to Chicago mom," her mother recalled.
The woman had friends in Chicago and had visited several times over the years and liked the vitality of the city, said JoAnn.
The woman spent 100 days at sea with a school program where she spent a semester and visited 10 countries, including India and Africa, said her mother.
That's where she got the travel bug and since then has visited the Bahamas three times and for her 30th birthday traveled to Switzerland alone, her mother said.
She picked Chicago to join several of her college friends who had moved here.
"She was just ready to relocate to a new city," said her mother. "She just picked Chicago to move to. She loved the city and of the several cities she was looking to relocate to, she picked Chicago."
Once here, she got a job with the Wirtz Beverage Group and her mother believes she worked as a sales representative.
McCoy went to the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and then went to the University of Phoenix in Philadelphia, where she earned her MBA, her mother said. She was the first person in her family to earn an advanced degree, said her mother.
"My whole family is proud of her," said her mother as she broke down on the telephone. "She was very much accomplished. She had a real good personality."
She had a brother, who is about to join the U.S. Air Force and two half-siblings, said her mother, a long-time U.S. Postal Service employee.
JoAnn McCoy said she last spoke to her daughter yesterday afternoon when they talked about the family. Her daughter told her she had planned to stay home last night.
The two were "very close" and talked to each other about three or four times a week. She was the woman's only daughter and was born on Easter Sunday in 1979.
"I asked her, 'Was she going out' and she said, 'Mom I do stay home sometimes,' " her mother said. "She was always on the go and always doing things and she was involved in a lot of organizations."
Later, she texted her daughter at about 8 p.m. Chicago time and her daughter told her she was home relaxing. She found out today that she had gone out with a female friend.
JoAnn had texted her daughter pictures of herself from her cell phone and Shantel texted back a response where she good-naturedly chided her mother, 'Mom, you love posing for the camera.' That's the last time we contacted each other," her mother said.
Firefighters found the woman in an elevator on the 12th floor. The doors were open.
Fire officials have not yet determined the cause of the blaze, Roccasalva said, and that the cause likely wouldn't be determined until Monday. But fire officials do not believe the origin to be suspicious, he said.
Two firefighters were among the injured in the blaze. One was taken from the scene in fair-to-serious condition and the other was taken in good-to-fair condition, Roccasalva said. One of the two firefighters suffered exhaustion and the nature of the other firefighter's injuries wasn't known, Roccasalva said. Neither of the injuries is serious, he said.
Six other people were taken to area hospitals in fair-to-serious condition, he said. He said their injuries involved smoke inhalation.
About 150 firefighters responded to the 2-11 alarm fire. An Emergency Medical Services Plan 2 was also called, which calls for 11 ambulances to the scene.
The EMS Plan 1, which calls for six ambulances to the scene, was upgraded after more people suffered from smoke inhalation, Roccasalva said.
Residents displaced from the building were being kept warm in Chicago Transit Authority buses staged a block away or in a neighboring building's lobby, which was holding between 60 and 70 people, Roccasalva said.
Fire was blowing out the windows in the unit when firefighters arrived, he said.