Chicago Quietly Phasing Out Red ‘X’ Program

WBEZ/Shawn Allee

WBEZ/Shawn Allee

A great article on the possible future of Chicago’s Red “X” Buildings and the effects it could have on Chicago Firefighters.  Take a moment of your time and read what the future may hold for the Red “X” program.

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Earlier this year, Curious City reported on a small symbol with a big impact on Chicago’s built environment. Now we’ve got an update.

In June we brought you the story of Chicago’s red “X” — sturdy, metal signs that the Chicago Fire Department affixed to 1,804 vacant properties between June 2012 and July 2013. Not every vacant building received a sign, just those that could pose a hazard to firefighters and other first responders in the event of an emergency there.

We reported on the confusion those signs sometimes create in neighborhoods where the red “X” is a common sight. We also found out the grant money that funded the program had quietly expired. That last part inspired a follow-up question from Joyce Lopez, a reader with a deep personal interest in this story:

In reference to the red “X’s” on abandoned/vacant, structurally unsound buildings, what can I do to see to it that additional funding is secured?

Lopez is the mother of Edward Stringer, one of two firefighters who died on Dec. 22, 2010 when an abandoned laundromat collapsed on him and dozens more while they swept the burning building for people trapped inside. That incident spurred the creation of the red “X” program in the first place.

Photo courtesy of Michael Torres

Photo courtesy of Michael Torres

Lopez, who retired to Lavaca, Arkansas, after working in personnel for the Chicago Fire Department, declined to comment for our original story. But she is troubled to learn that the program established to prevent tragedies like the one that befell her son appears to have fizzled out.

So too is Michael Torres, Lopez’s other son and Edward Stringer’s stepbrother.

“I hope and pray that they have a system in place that would prevent unnecessary deaths of our first responders, like the death of my brother. We feel it was preventable. And the city will always bear a little bit of the blame for that,” says Torres. “The red ‘X’ program was initiated to prevent that from happening in the future, and I think that pacified us a little bit … But when we’d been told that the funding dried up, I think that the city’s priorities are mislaid. I’m skeptical.”

Lopez is in touch with many other “survivors” who have lost friends and family in the line of duty. She says many of them want to see the red “X” program continue.

“Put me up in front of a building with a can of spray paint,” she says. “I’ll put the ‘X’s up there!” 

From red “X” to red text

Since our story ran in June, several city officials have said they wanted to see the program continue. Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red “X” ordinance, told us she wanted to find more money for the program. At least since WBEZ first reported that the program had run out of money, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford says they’ve been hunting “anywhere [they] can” for more grant funding.

But now the department talks about the program in the past tense.                                   

“We have not seen where any such money is readily available,” says Langford. “We did not get new funding and expanded the electronic side of the system to continue the awareness for first responders.”…Continue Reading Here

WBEZ/Shawn Allee

WBEZ/Shawn Allee

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