Council approves cooling requirements for high-rises, benefits for spouses of first-responder suicides

Chicago City Hall.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The City Council agreed Wednesday to require Chicago’s residential high-rises and senior citizen buildings to establish “cooling centers in enclosed common areas” to give sweltering residents a crisp refuge when the heat index reaches 80 degrees. 

The ordinance championed by Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) is aimed at preventing a repeat of the tragedy at James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave. in Hadden’s Rogers Park ward.

That’s the senior building where three residents — Janice Reed, 68, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Delores McNeely, 76 — died in mid-May amid another heat wave.

Prior to the final vote, Hadden thanked four of her colleagues — Brian Hopkins (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Ray Lopez (15th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) — for “talking through some of the challenging issues” surrounding an ordinance that seeks to protect residents without imposing undue burdens on building owners struggling with supply chain issues. 

“I’m happy we were able to move forward with this ordinance. … We’re gonna be able to provide some immediate cooling relief to our seniors and to residents in large buildings,” Hadden said.

“Thank you bringing this forward,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose administration worked closely with Hadden. “It’s something that was clearly necessary and a gap in our ordinance that, now, we’ll be able to address as the summer months come.”

According to Hadden, a building manager cited the city’s heat ordinance in responding to complaints about the heat and questions about why the air conditioning hadn’t been turned on before the three women died.

The ordinance approved Wednesday is intended to strike the balance between protecting Chicago’s “most vulnerable” residents and confronting what Buildings Commissioner Matthew Beaudet called the “technical limitations” of the heating and cooling systems in many large buildings.

Those buildings have “supply pipes that can either provide hot water or heating and cold water for cooling, but not both” heating and cooling at the same time, the commissioner said this week.

“Attempting to provide hot water to a chiller or cold water to a boiler will break the system. The proper switching of the system between heat mode and cooling mode and vice-versa can take one or two days to complete. Thus, it is critical to us to devise a system that acknowledges the limitations of building systems and design a solution to protect residents,” Beaudet said.

In addition to common cooling areas, the ordinance would: 

• Expressly state the ordinance does not prohibit engagement of the cooling system as long as the required minimum temperatures are maintained.

• Immediately mandate “temporary cooling systems, such as plug-in window- or portable air-conditioning,” and require, what Beaudet called “a separate permanent cooling system” be installed by May 1, 2024.

The extended deadline for the permanent system is to “provide appropriate time to budget funding for materials and labor” given supply chain issues and employee shortages, the commissioner said.

• Mandate permanent cooling systems in all new construction for residential, institutional and pre-K through 12 buildings. 

Hopkins initially threatened to delay this week’s vote for further study amid concern about the mandatory heat requirements in May and September.

That section would have allowed for a lesser minimum heating temperature of 64 degrees at the beginning and end of the heat season — until the outdoor temperature first falls below 45 degrees or exceeds 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

When Hopkins argued that it “makes no sense to mandate a one-size-fits-all” solution at dual-pipe buildings,” Hadden agreed to strike that provision and keep “working on the heating portion.”

Benefits boosted for first-responder suicides

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council unanimously agreed to grant surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters who have died by suicide since Jan. 1, 2018 the same benefits afforded to families of first-responders killed in the line of duty.

That amounts to one year’s salary, as well as access to a fund that can provide $20,000 to $40,000 for family health care, education and other permitted expenses.

The ordinance was championed by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) at the behest of former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins and the two police widows he represented pro bono: Anastasia “Stacy” Escamilla and Julie Troglia.

Their husbands, Paul Escamilla and Jeffrey Troglia, took their own lives. They had 30 years of service between them.

Prior to the final vote, O’Shea talked about the incredible burden police officers carry after seeing “the worst of the worst every day.”

“What do they do? They turn to alcohol. They turn to substance abuse. They bottle it up,” O’Shea said. 

“We have failed them. We continue to fail them.

Lopez argued the cops he’s talked to are “beaten down” by a relentless string of cancelled days off.

“That must end. That’s the part that we contribute. … We are driving our officers to this point. … You work them two, three weeks straight without a chance to de-compress” or spend time with their families, he said.

“That is a failure of leadership. A failure to manage the human capital.”

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), who has served the city as both a police officer and a firefighter, agreed that “11 to 23 straight days working” is driving cops to the breaking point. 

“We’ve got to find a way around” it or the tidal wave of police retirements will “explode” as summer drags on, he said.

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