Question of the Week

June 30, 2003


"'We've had these parties--everyone's got a porch,' Zycinski said. 'You wouldn't think twice about, "Is this porch safe?" You think that everything's safe. You wouldn't even question the number of people on a porch.... 'Every summer, porches collapse due to large parties and gatherings held on unstable porch systems,' Commissioner Norma Reyes wrote in her May 25 advisory. The latest collapse of a third-floor porch early Sunday was believed the deadliest in Chicago history, prompting Reyes to call for a fresh look at building codes.... Witnesses estimated a total of 60 to 100 people were on the second and third levels of the structure when it collapsed--pancaking into a basement level."

Partygoers were out on the porch for various reasons. Some may have wanted a refill from the keg, others may have been looking for fresh air and the chance to escape a crowded apartment. Whatever it was, they didn't think that standing on a porch would be what one might consider "a risky behavior."

With that in mind, "Ald. Bernard Stone (50th), chairman of the Building Committee, said the fault may simply lie with the partygoers. 'The rear stairs are for ingress and egress and not meant to be a dance floor,' Stone said. 'I don't want to sound callous when you have 12 people dead and so many people injured, but they are sort of the victims of their own folly.'"

But who gets hurt standing on a porch? "Nobody would have thought about the porch collapsing. Nobody ever does.... We are told there were too many people on the porch that collapsed early Sunday, maybe 50 or more. That seems pretty obvious. But how many is too many? 25? 50? 75? How are you supposed to know? I'm an advocate of people using common sense, but structural engineering is a pretty tall order for common sense."

Not everyone dismissed the idea of risk. Some in attendance at the party "were alarmed enough to leave the party about 12:25 a.m. and went across the street to the Burwood Tap tavern, she said. A few minutes later, someone ran in to tell them what had happened."

They didn't go home. They didn't end their night out with friends. They just moved away from what they observed to be a potentially dangerous situation. It appears that they got out just in time.

Four months ago there was another disaster.

"Initially, people stood and watched the fire or casually made their way toward exits. Then panic broke out, according to videographer Brian Butler, who was taping the rock concert for a story on nightclub safety.... Hall said all of the building's four exits were functioning and that most of the bodies have been recovered from near the building's front entrance. The fire was 'the main contributing factor' to their deaths. 'Human nature being what it is, they tried to go out the same way they came in' and were trapped, Hall said. 'That was the problem.' He said the other three exits had signs with battery-powered lights, but people couldn't see them."

How often do you take 10 to 15 seconds to decide how you would get out of a room if chaos erupted at a party or dance? Where could you be safe before things got out of hand? If there was a fire, where would you go? How could you avoid the hysteria that can so easily accompany large crowds suddenly having to deal with a crisis--or just an unexpected event?

It's almost 4th of July. Should people avoid having fun with large crowds or at parties? Not at all! Should people be aware of their physical and social surroundings? Absolutely!

"Holding aloft his left hand, swaddled in thick bandages, Patrick Knotts sent a warning out to anyone who might try to make their own fireworks. Patrick Knotts, 15, gets a hug from his mother, LaBette Barber. He lost two fingers and part of his thumb on his left hand when a homemade device blew up in his hand.... 'It was a dumb thing. It was a really dumb thing,' the 15-year-old Kingston teen said from his bed at Harborview Medical Center yesterday. Patrick lost part of his thumb and two fingers when his homemade contraption blew up Wednesday.... The teen isn't alone in his suffering. At Harborview, emergency room physicians treated at least nine patients for fireworks-related injuries, ranging from an 11-month-old baby boy with burns to his face to a 40-year-old man with an eye injury."

Even if you don't plan to be around large groups, it is still important to be aware of what those around you are doing.

There is the "old standby" advice:
If something doesn't feel right about a situation you've found yourself in, trust your instincts. If things don't seem safe, go someplace where they do. Stay lucid enough to be able to make the decision when/if the time comes.

But where is the fun in all that. Parties and getting together with friends is all about relaxing and letting go.

No one will be there to make every decision for you, or to police every situation in which you might find yourself. Parents, teachers, or friends may want to. They may even try.

Question of the Week:
In the end, it is up to you to decide. How can you have fun, relax, and enjoy yourself, while still staying safe and remaining aware? What is a difference between being paranoid and being careful. What is a difference between being anxious and being aware.

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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