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Deadly Hawaii Fire Raises Concerns About Lack of Sprinklers in Older High-Rises Across the U.S.

Deadly Hawaii Fire Raises Concerns About Lack of Sprinklers in Older High-Rises Across the U.S. Los Angeles Times (07/15/17) Chang, Heidi; Jarvie, Jennifer

At least three people died Friday after a fire swept across the upper floors of the Marco Polo condominium building in Hawaii, causing hundreds of residents to evacuate. Unfortunately, the 36-story tower was not equipped with sprinklers. Residents and officials in Honolulu, like many other cities nationwide, have for years debated the costs and benefits of installing fire sprinkler systems throughout aging residential buildings. Persuading owners to retrofit such buildings can be a challenge. In the case of The Marco Polo, it was built four years before Honolulu required fire sprinkler systems in new residential high-rises.

Twelve years ago, the Honolulu City Council assembled a task force to estimate the cost of retrofitting and installing fire sprinkler systems in about 300 residential condominium buildings. A report estimated that retrofitting the Marco Polo would cost $4,305.55 for each unit. Owners, who were represented by the Hawai'i Council of Assns. of Apartment Owners, lobbied strongly against any retrofitting, recalls Samuel Dannaway, chief fire protection engineer for Coffman Engineers and author of the 2005 report. "Cost was the reason, he lamented. "This was inevitable. We already knew on this one -- you need to install sprinklers in a high-rise building for the safety of the occupants and the safety of the firefighters."