Honolulu sprinkler bill advances after deadly high-rise fire

HONOLULU — Some Honolulu residents believe a bill that would require older high-rise buildings to retrofit sprinklers would be too costly, while others believe the sprinklers would prevent another deadly fire like the one last month.

The Honolulu City Council pushed the bill through its first reading on Wednesday in front of a crowd of residents on both sides of the debate, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced the bill after the July 14 apartment building fire killed three people and injured 12. The fire caused an estimated $100 million or more in damage, officials said. The building was built in 1971, which was four years before sprinklers became mandatory for new construction in Honolulu.

Karen Winston Fox flew to Honolulu to testify at the City Council meeting. Fox’s friend Britt Reller was one of the three who died in the fire. She supports the bill, saying Reller died “needlessly.”

“My question to you is how many souls will have to be lost before something is done?” Reller said.

Caldwell also made an appearance at the meeting.

“If there were sprinklers in that unit, the fire would not have spread,” he said.

Opponents are adamant that retrofitting sprinklers would cause a financial burden, which could leave some people homeless.

Resident Lorraine Loui said she and many of the others living in her 180-unit condominium are retirees on fixed incomes. The estimate given for a sprinkler retrofit several years ago was $14,000 per unit.

“It’s a matter of cost and just to give people tax credits will not do it,” Loui said.

The buildings that would be affected by the bill are already at the age where they are requiring other types of repairs, Loui said.

“We just went through a retrofit for plumbing,” Loui said, adding that her 500-square-foot (46-square-meter) unit was assessed at $27,000 for the retrofit.

Natalie Fogle lives in a 480-unit building that also is not fully outfitted with sprinklers.

“I can tell you that the retrofit in that building would be extremely expensive and complicated,” Fogle said.

Fogle urged the Council to defer the bill until the Honolulu Fire Department determines what caused the fire at Marco Polo.

“A hastily drafted, kind-of-a-knee-jerk legislation benefits no one,” Fogle said. “It does not benefit any of the residents in those buildings, and the timing for implementation is well off in the future. . Carefully considering whatever legislation may come of this is a much more prudent and appropriate method going forward.”

The bill goes to the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee next for further consideration.

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