Fatal Rogers Park fire spurs calls for reform

The fire that killed six children in Rogers Park earlier this week has focused renewed attention on the problems of low-wage workers struggling to provide for their families.

All but one of the children killed in the blaze at 7706 N. Marshfield were members of the Ramirez family. The Chicago Fire Department lists the deceased as Vanessa, 14, Erick, 12, Suzette, 10, Idaly, 6, and Kevin, 3. Escarlet Ramos, a 3-year-old, who was spending the night with the family, also perished.

The Ramirez parents, who both worked at a local laundromat, had a hard time making ends meet for their nine children.

One local resident said, 'My mom used to give them clothes and feed the kids.'

Fire investigators are continuing to examine the blaze, but preliminary results indicate it was caused by a candle left burning in a hallway.

Commonwealth Edison said the family has been without power since May. CNN reported that it was cut off at the request of the customer, not due to non-payment.

Subsequent requests for information have been denied by the power company officials, who cite privacy concerns.

Revelations that the lack of electricity was a contributing factor in the fire prompted Don Gordon, a candidate in the 49th Ward aldermanic race, to call for new protections which would support rental families experiencing a financial crisis.

Gordon's proposed ordinance would require that if children are present, landlords must notify Chicago's Department of Children and Youth Services if the family has their utilities cut off. They must also contact DCFS.

If the elderly are involved, the city's Elder Abuse Hotline must be notified.

His ordinance would also require that the utility companies, and the city's water department, notify these same agencies if there is a shut off. Upon receipt of these notices, city agencies would attempt to find financial assistance to remedy the situation, or remove the children or elderly from harm.

Alderman Joe Moore (49th) has organized two child safety days to be held at local parks.

On September 9 at the Gale Park Campus (1610 W. Howard), from 10am to 2pm, free dental screenings, Kid ID program and health vans will be available to area residents. On September 16, the same services will be made available at Pottawatomi Park (7340 N. Rogers), also from 10am to 2pm.

Jim Ginderske, also running against Moore, has outlined reforms he would seek should he be elected.

These include financial assistance to owners of rental property to add electrical outlets using 'wiremold' technology to reduce the use of extension cords, installation of GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupters) outlets where feasible, replacing old light fixtures, verifying working smoke detectors in all units, and providing window stops to tenants with small children.

The Howard Area Community Center, a local non-profit, said two of the children volunteered at the center. Officials there have set up a fund to assist the family.

Yadira Ramirez, 18, who was staying at her godmother's house the night of the fire, requested at a press conference on Labor Day, that donations be directed to the HACC administered fund.

John Fitzgerald, the center's executive director, said the family lost all of their clothing and other belongings in the fire.

Should you wish to assist the Ramirez family, tax-deductible donations should be directed to:

Ramirez Family Fund, c/o

Howard Area Community Center

7648 North Paulina Avenue

Chicago, Illinois 60626

(773) 262-6622

A bank account had also been set up at LaSalle Bank. Donations can also be dropped off at any LaSalle Bank location.

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