Forest Park resident Kathleen Moritz calls her desire to enhance fire safety in the Chicagoland area “a passion.”
She has spent the last several months following her son’s death in a Chicago apartment fire campaigning for improved fire safety regulations, and recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the landlord of the apartment building where her son died.
Tanner Osborn, 22, was living with Moritz in Forest Park and interning at the Rax Trax recording studio in Chicago after completing his studies in recording engineering at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Arizona. On June 7, 2005, he spent the night at an apartment belonging to two friends on the 1400 block of West Barry Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. A fire broke out in the apartment at 6:15 a.m., and all three died of smoke inhalation.
Moritz believes that the deaths could have been prevented by properly installed smoke alarms in the apartment. “It’s my goal to have an educational program at least in college orientation as well as for high school seniors who are going to attend college. This population thinks they’re invincible. They’re more concerned with having room for a keg than a smoke detector,” she said.
Moritz has devoted her efforts to a campaign which she calls the “Look Up” project. It focuses on educating tenants on the responsibilities of landlords to provide smoke detectors.
The campaign has entered into a partnership with the Chicago Fire Department, which has agreed to give smoke detectors to building department inspectors so they can install the detectors before the fire department has reason to visit a home.
A poster for the campaign featuring Osborn’s picture was placed on the side of a Chicago Fire Department float during the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 12, which Moritz called her best day since her son’s death.
Moritz has also met with Forest Park officials regarding potential fire safety enhancements in Forest Park.
“Kathleen is working on a terrific mission,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone, noting that though finding the necessary manpower may pose some problems, he is interested in working with her to further ensure enforcement of the village’s fire safety regulations.
Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke said that all new construction in the village must be wired for smoke detectors, and in new apartment buildings with 11 or more units, sprinklers are required as well. He said that the village also complies with state laws requiring that smoke detectors be installed within 15 feet of sleeping areas. He noted that tenants are responsible for maintaining the units once installed.
Commissioner Tim Gillian, who oversees the fire department, said that the village already has programs in place to assist senior citizens in installing smoke detectors.
“Our fire department does an excellent job in terms of firefighting, and we do a good job in terms of prevention. Still, could we do more? I’m sure we could,” said Gillian.
Tanner’s father Jim Osborn, who lives in Phoenix, has had similar successes organizing neighborhood canvasses during which, along with local firefighters and volunteers, he passes out smoke detectors to people in need.
Moritz’s lawsuit, filed March 20 by the Chicago-based law firm Propes and Kaveny, alleges that the landlord of the apartment, Adrian Winnick, and his two companies, Southport Properties and ICM Properties, Inc., violated state and city codes by neglecting to install smoke detectors within 15 feet of the apartment’s bedrooms, in the stairwell, or on the second floor of the apartment.
The parents of the other two young men killed in the blaze, Justin McDonald and Christopher Ross Jr., are joining Moritz in the lawsuit, which calls for damages to each plaintiff in excess of $50,000 plus the costs of the suit.
The defendants’ attorneys at the firm Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney and Priess did not return calls seeking comment.