New bill would require mandatory fire drills for all highrises

New bill would require mandatory fire drills for all highrises
Updated: Jul. 20, 2017 at 7:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Honolulu city councilwoman is concerned about the the cost of added regulations in the wake of the deadly Marco Polo fire.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's proposal responding to the fire that killed three people does not only call for fire sprinklers. It would require all high-rise residential buildings to meet the same fire standards as hotels and business buildings. Regularly inspected fire alarms, frequent fire drills and annually updated emergency plans would all be required.

The fire at Marco Polo last Friday broke out in unit 2602. Fire officials said approximately 200 units are now damaged. Fire Chief Manuel Neves said if all the units had sprinklers, the fire would not have spread so rapidly.

The mayor's Bill 69 would force all residential high-rises to install sprinklers, fire alarm systems, evacuation plans and fire drills every 180 days.

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said regular fire drills and updated emergency plans are a good idea, but the other requirements could cost thousands of dollars.

"We've had a tragic incident occur in our city and some people want us to do something about it.  But we have to be very careful that this solution may actually harm more people than do good," Pine said.

A recent study by Dannaway's firm for the Marco Polo board pegged the costs of installing retrofitted sprinklers around $9,000 per unit. Councilwoman Pine said it could force some people out of their homes.

"I think a lot of the individual owners of the units would have a very difficult time affording, forcing them to put sprinklers in their units. They're barely surviving. They're living in Makaha because they can't afford to live anywhere else. It is more affordable there. But to add additional expenses to someone who is just trying to survive, it's a very hard thing to do," said Pine.

"If government does make it mandatory, they're gonna have to help some way financially," she said.

It is unclear how many units would be affected by this proposal. But according to a Honolulu Fire Department survey, there are approximately 300 high-rise apartment buildings on Oahu which currently do not have a fire sprinkler system.

The Honolulu Fire Department currently has 35 fire inspectors within its Fire Prevention Bureau. The city's Department of Planning and Permitting has 98 inspectors.

DPP said it believes it has the resources needed to handle the additional standards.

HFD said it is too early to say if more resources or personnel would be needed but said the department supports anything that increases fire safety in the community.

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