Sixteen people died in fires in Chicago in 2013, the lowest number of such fatalities ever recorded in one year in the city, according to a story reported by Rosemary Regina Sobol, in the January 7, 2014, Chicago Tribune.
“It’s been … moving in that direction for the past several years,” said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford, who credited the use of smoke detectors, advancements in medical technology and quick response of fire crews.
The largest loss of life in one fire remains the December, 1903, blaze that erupted during a Wednesday matinee performance of “Mr. Blue Beard” at the Iroquois Theater in the Loop, killing more than 600 people. “Most were trampled to death,” Langford said.
Hardware industry professionals are familiar with that tragic fire because it led to the invention of the Von Duprin exit device. Carl Prinzler was supposed to attend a show at the Iroquois Theater that night, however, other business dealings called him elsewhere. At that time, it was common for theaters to lock exterior doors to prevent non-paying persons from entering. At the time of the fire, all doors were locked and/or bolted, preventing patrons from exiting, causing people to be burned alive, succumb to smoke inhalation, or be trampled to death.
Prinzler, soon thereafter, sought a way for doors into public facilities to be locked from the outside, but to allow egress from the inside with minimal effort during an emergency. He worked with Henry H. DuPont to develop a “panic bar” style egress device. In 1908 the Vonnegut Hardware Company was asked to market it under the name Von Duprin, a combination of the names Vonnegut, DuPont and Prinzler.
The popular 88 Series crossbar exit devices still manufactured by Von Duprin appear similar to the original design, although significant engineering changes have been made.