Committee Looks at Ways to Make High Rises Safer in Fires

Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz
Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz
Lloyd Rogers
Lloyd Rogers

HONOLULU (KHNL) - A Honolulu City Council committee is looking at a new bill that would offer protection to occupants of high rise buildings. The measure would create a safe escape route for anyone who may get trapped during a fire.

Bill 50 would require older, high rise buildings have fire retardant coatings in its common areas. However, there is one surprising opponent to the idea.

More than 300 condos in Honolulu do not have a sprinkler system. That makes it difficult when there's a fire.

"We should learn from those experiences and see whatever we can do to really protect people," said Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz.

That's why he introduced Bill 50. It calls for fire retardant coatings in the common areas of high rise buildings.

"High performance fire retardant coatings can eliminate the contribution of flammable paints and wall coverings to a fire, providing greater opportunity for escape through a hallway or stairwell," said Sam Gottfried, of Nofire Technologies, that makes the paint-like product.

The paint is an alternative to retro-fitting all of these buildings with sprinkler systems. The Honolulu Fire Department says it's not a good one.

"Painting the interiors of corridors of high rise buildings, as well as the exterior, would not control or extinguish fires where they normally originate, and that's in the dwelling units," said Asst. Chief Lloyd Rogers.

Fire officials say common areas are already made of non-combustible materials, like concrete. So the paint wouldn't help much.

"We find if difficult to support something that adds costs to condo owners, and yet have minimal or non existent benefit as far as fire safety," said Rogers.

Only high rises built after 1975 are required to have sprinkler systems. Older buildings have no requirements like that.

The bill has been deferred, while the committee studies some of the issues that were brought up.