New report whittles down older high-rises in need of new sprinkler systems


In the wake of the deadly Marco Polo fire, the mayor called for older residential high-rises to be retrofitted with sprinklers.

Fire officials say these systems can prevent flames from spreading.

Now we have an indication of which buildings might need the costly upgrade.

The original list identified 360 buildings that would need sprinkler systems installed, but after discussions and looking at different risk factors, the list has been cut in half to about 150 buildings.

“Especially when we thought there may be potential to exempt buildings. As we looked around the country and other jurisdictions, we looked at our own buildings, we realized that some buildings have more risk than others,” explained assistant fire chief Socrates Bratakos. “So it’s buildings like this, where you walk out of your apartment and into an enclosed hallway. These are the buildings that are on the fire department’s list that could be getting new sprinkler systems.”

So how do you know if your building is on the list, and how much could it cost?

Click here to view the full report from the Residential Fire Safety Advisory Committee (RFSAC).

Click here to view a working list of at-risk buildings and which ones (highlighted in yellow) would be targeted for retrofitting. The list is sorted in descending order with the highest number of floors on the top. For condominiums with exterior hallways, the sorting also starts from the highest number of floors, but with the designation that the building does not have interior hallways (N vs. Y in the designated column).

“The taller they are, the bigger they are with more occupants, and the ones with interior full-length corridors particularly present a risk,” Bratakos said.

One thing that could make a building exempt from sprinklers is if it has exterior access, a continuous path to an exit, and no interior corridors.

“We saw that the buildings that have exterior access for all units and no full-length interior corridors did not present as much of a risk. Why? Because the fire usually starts in the unit. By the time it comes out the door, it can dissipate,” Bratakos said.

HFD is also backing a bill to amend the fire code. If that’s approved, buildings 20 stories or higher would need sprinklers installed in common areas, like lobbies and hallways, within eight years, and for buildings 10 to 19 stories within 10 years.

For entire buildings, including sprinklers in individual units, the timeline is 12 years, with an extension if progress is being made.

If your building is under 10 stories, you’re off the list.

“Fires by and large start in units, so if you’re going to save people’s lives, it’s by starting in the units,” Bratakos said. “But if you are going to make it better, and that’s why we wrote it that way into the code, you at least have the common areas sprinklered. The fire is not likely to spread as fast. Firefighters can get there and be at less risk.”

The recommendations from the RFSAC are still guidelines that would need the approval of the city council and the mayor.

The findings will be discussed when the city council continues deliberations on Bill 69, which seeks to codify new residential high-rise safety regulations that are efficient and cost-effective. The bill will be considered on Nov. 14 during the meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Executive Matters and Legal Affairs.

Also Wednesday, a number of bills were introduced to help residents pay for the possible upgrades.

The bills deal with everything from waiving fees to creating a city fund to be used for loans for the improvements.

RFSAC was reconvened at the request of the city. It was led by Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves and included representatives from the state, city, and private sector.

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