What else can be done to prevent deadly high rise fires?

That’s the question many had at a community meeting on Saturday about fire safety in residential buildings.

City council members requested the meeting following the fire that killed three people as it tore through the Marco Polo building in July.

The blaze left dozens of others homeless.

Mayor Caldwell has proposed a bill to retrofit older residential buildings with sprinklers, but not everyone agrees that’s the answer.

Many who attended the meeting agree sprinklers will definitely help in a fire, however many also agree everyone needs to be proactive and prepare before a fire breaks out.

It was a packed auditorium as a panel of insurance agents, condo association members, and fire safety professionals discussed how to improve fire safety in Hawaii.

“You’ve got to come together as a community and come up with plans to educate your unit owners on fire safety,” Jane Sugimura, a condo representative, said.

The Honolulu Fire Department said there are 358 residential high rise properties that don’t have sprinklers.

We’re told the city is looking at ways to make sprinklers affordable but not everyone is on board with that idea.

“The city is working now to see if we can in fact create a grant program so that instead of an actual loan, the money would be granted to people with 80% or less of the median income,” Peter Biggs, with the city Dept. Of Budget and Fiscal Services, said.

“We’re looking at reducing any city fees if possible,” HFD Asst. Fire Chief Socrates Bratakos said.

“I don’t believe sprinklers are the answer, either financially, or lives saved,” one person from the audience said.

Alternatives like fire retardant paint to slow the spread of fire were also discussed. But once again, not everyone is sure that the right answer.

“The paint doesn’t jump off the wall and cover the tables and chairs and couches and sofas and computers and carpets, so all that stuff’s still going to burn anyhow,” Bratakos said.

Tom Schmidt lived in Marco Polo unit 2603, next door to where the blaze began.

He believes fire education could’ve prevented the flames from spreading.

“With all the equipment that we had, nobody used it,” Schmidt said. “People don’t know how to use a CO2 bottle (fire extinguisher), they don’t even know how to put out a fire.”

Officials suggested condo associations establish fire safety committees with board members and residents.

Installing evacuation routes and strobe light alarms on each floor could also be helpful.

Another panel member suggested keeping a list of elderly tenants and their unit numbers in a secure but handy location so firefighters know where to go first.

One thing everyone could agree on – having a plan for the future.

“I think we’re ready but that doesn’t mean we can’t be more ready that’s why when I get back, I want to have a fire advisory committee set up,” Jack Isbell, a member of the Board of Directors for the Queen Emma Gardens Homeowner’s Association, said.

The city’s fire safety advisory committee said it hopes to have some recommendations presented to city council sometime in the next couple of months.

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