Nine people were injured recently when a propane tank explosion rocked a jewelry building in Chicago. The explosion occurred April 1 on the sixth floor of the 21-story Mallers Building. The blast blew out walls and windows, raining shards of glass on the street below. The fire spread to the building’s elevator shaft, sending smoke through its hallways and offices.
Tenants recalled hearing a loud boom that shook the building.
“It’s definitely the scariest thing that ever happened to me,” recalled
Steve Ehrmann of Intercontinental Diamonds. “The entire building shook. There was smoke all through the hallways, and it felt like the building was burning down. The smoke was so bad in the office, we decided to put paper towels over our mouths and just make a run for it. When we left, the smoke was so thick you couldn’t even see your feet. The scariest thing was when we walked out of our office—until we got to about the 12th floor, we just could not breathe. I thought for sure we would die from smoke inhalation.”
Fortunately, neither Ehrmann nor any of his employees was seriously hurt, although several were treated for respiratory problems.
The incident was particularly unsettling in the wake of Sept. 11.
“The first thought was that this was a terrorist attack,” says Garry Zimerman, vice president of National Diamond Syndicate, another Mallers tenant.
Investigators aren’t sure what caused the tank to explode. The building was closed for two weeks following the explosion. Jay Richman, president of the building, declined comment, except to say he will renovate the structure.
This is the second explosion and fire in the Mallers Building. The first, two years ago, was a far less serious incident: According to local press accounts, a gas tank exploded, causing a fire inside two jewelry shops.
Many think this incident—along with the new safety codes issued for Los Angeles jewelry manufacturers (see “Safety Lesson,” JCK May 2002, p. 140)—are signs that bench jewelers and manufacturers must focus more on safety.
“I think theres going to be a larger issue here,” says Allen Lipscher of Global Diamonds. “This was a terrible thing, but its also a tremendous wake-up call.”