Honolulu Postpones Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Requirement

By CATHY BUSSEWITZ | August 25, 2017

The Honolulu City Council has postponed action on a bill to require the installation of sprinkler systems in older high-rise buildings about a month after a blaze killed three residents of a 36-story structure that did not have the safety feature.

Council members on Tuesday decided to wait for more information from the Honolulu Fire Department, including what caused the deadly July fire at the Marco Polo apartment building and how many of the city’s apartment complexes have similar characteristics and risk level.

They heard from apartment owners on fixed incomes who said they can’t afford to pay for sprinkler installation and they would rather live with the risks than retrofit their apartments or move to a more costly location.

Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine said some homeowners have been defending their buildings, saying they have had fires in their buildings but concrete walls kept the flames from spreading.

“My concern is we have some of the highest homeless population per capita, and it’s never a good thing if we have a government mandate on people that would cause the homeless problem to increase,” Pine said. “So how can we solve this problem that we all agree needs to be solved without hurting people?”

Like many cities, Honolulu requires sprinkler systems in new high rise buildings. But residential structures built before 1975 are not required to have them.

Across the United States, city laws vary on whether older high-rise apartment buildings must install fire sprinklers that weren’t required when the towers were first built.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced the bill and hopes the council will take it up again later, said his spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke. Caldwell wants to work with the council to find ways to make the work affordable for low-income homeowners.

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