Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Flashback 2006: Roofers again at scene of crime

Notre Dame roof and spire, 2017, destroyed in a fire on Monday

     Forgive me for interrupting my South American series. But the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral Monday was truly a shock, one that has to be addressed. Modern life has reduced fires everywhere, in homes and factories, never mind near-millennium-old icons such as the most popular tourist destination in France.
     The initial fear might have been terrorism, but I had a different suspicion, one that, while not confirmed, is given credibility by the scaffolding around the church roof. I wrote this when the great Pilgrim Baptist Church burned. You'd think people would learn, but they never do.  
     I remember hearing from roofers who felt ill-used when this ran, so phoned a few roofing and contracting safety associations looking for their perspective. My sense is it'll be a long wait. 


     The heart breaks to see a tragedy like the fire at Pilgrim Baptist Church, for the twin loss, both to the architectural history of the city and to a vibrant spiritual community. But there is one aspect that almost makes a person have to smile, albeit a cynical, head-shaking curl of the lip. That was when city officials speculated that roofers working on the church just might have touched off the blaze.
     Gee, ya think? You mean the guys with blowtorches working at the exact spot the fire broke out? Now there's a theory. It's ALWAYS the roofers. Do you realize how many public buildings burn during roof work? Two years ago, the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton caught fire. In 2002, we almost lost another Louis Sullivan building, the magnificent Carson, Pirie Scott Building downtown, when roofers set the place on fire, and exploding propane tanks sent burning debris showering onto State Street. In 1999, it was another black church, St. Stephen AME Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in the city, that was burned, destroying the roof and charring the walls. I'm telling you, roofers are worse than the Klan.
     OK, that's a bit extreme. It isn't always the roofers. Countless roofers are reading this now, with their coffee and doughnuts, waiting for the supervisor to show up, and if there were ever a group that could tar and feather a guy, it's roofers. So we should recognize that other trades also torch the places they're supposed to be fixing. In 1998, the 120-year-old Barrington United Methodist Church burned to the ground when workers repairing a window burned a hole through the wall. Old churches are generally tinderboxes that could be set on fire with an ice cube.
     That said, roofing is a particularly nasty, smelly, extra-dangerous business involving open flames and hot tar, which burns like napalm.
     So, don't blame the roofers—but maybe an extra level of caution could be exerted when repairing the roofs of irreplaceable cultural treasures, particularly old churches. Say a guy standing there with a hose. Or at the very least, the minister, watching carefully, his left hand on a cell phone, ready to call 911, and his right hand on a Bible, praying with all his might. I would if it were my church.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 9, 2006


  1. I believe the fire marshall's investigation will confirm your suspicion, Neil. Since the scaffolding didn't burn, maybe they could just leave it in place for the reconstruction

    1. No, it appears that much of the scaffolding was melted & warped from the heat of the fire. It will have to be removed & such of it scrapped.

    2. I removed the phrase about the scaffolding surviving.

  2. the fire would have to be real small if all had was a hose, not to mention church roofs are generally pretty high up. Homes now have to have water sprinklers ( I know that is the wrong word) I wonder if that would work in churches.

  3. Thank you for bringing it up - it deserves further investigation. I can't recall them now, but I'm certain that since Pilgrim we've had a couple more historic Chicago structures damaged by fires resulting from roofing work. I appreciate that the roofers' job is risky and difficult, and that they're probably working under lowest-bid conditions, but how can we excuse the industry from such costly recurrences?

  4. A world-class landmark survives wars, revolutions, bombardments, and the ravages of time and weather for 850 years... only to be destroyed by a roofer's torch? We are indeed living through perilous and terrible times, in which anything can happen on any given day, and I fear there is far worse yet to come.

    As for the response from Dolt 45, it is clear that he's lost touch with reality, assuming he ever had one at any time in his life. If the Capitol were burning, he'd probably tell someone to put it out by urinating on it. No need for that, as he's already pissing on Congress.

    Not once, in the last four years, has he ever said or done the appropriate thing when called upon to do so, and yesterday he remained true to form. The man is onstage before the entire world, every day. And he routinely blows his performances like a bad actor who blows his lines, and ad libs himself into a corner. Does he even care? Are you kidding me?

    One of the smoothest, smartest, and most urbane men ever to hold the office of POTUS was replaced by one of the roughest, dumbest, and most offensive. I always expect to hear him say something stupid and ridiculous, and I have yet to be disappointed.

    This is a tragedy that has shocked and saddened the whole world, and instead of sympathy and compassion from the POTUS, we get a silly tweet about tanker planes, as if this were merely another brush fire in California. Agent Orange, when faced with catastrophic news, always displays the sensitivity of a toilet seat.

  5. I wonder how many such fires, in both high-profile and obscure cases, were caused by roofers who had to cut corners to make a low bid

  6. Yes roofers should not cut corners, I did at home and had to get centralmarylandroofing.com to fix my mistakes.


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