In the wake of Marco Polo fire, Caldwell introduces sprinkler bill

Mayor Caldwell introduces bill to require retrofitted sprinkler systems in residential high-rises for fire safety

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced a bill to the city council yesterday afternoon requiring that retrofitted sprinkler systems be installed in all high-rise residential buildings over 75 feet tall built before sprinkler systems were required in 1975. On July 14, a blaze destroyed multiple apartment units within the 36 story Marco Polo building on Kapiolani Boulevard. Three people lost their lives.

“Sprinklers save lives, and our keiki and kupuna need them most,” said Mayor Caldwell. “We know the Marco Polo fire would likely not have spread if the building had sprinklers. We also know that many O‘ahu families struggle to pay for affordable housing, and we are working with the City Council to find ways to help homeowners pay for this lifesaving upgrade.”

The bill was introduced today with the supprt of Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves. Details such as the timeline, assistance programs for homeowners, and penalties for non-compliance will be added during City Council deliberations.

In 1975, the City and County of Honolulu surpassed national standards of the time by enacting a law requiring sprinkler systems in all newly constructed high-rise buildings, but not to existing buildings. In 1983, Honolulu required all existing hotel high-rise buildings retrofit an automatic fire sprinkler system. In 2001, the requirement was extended to all existing commercial high-rise buildings. The requirement had not been extended to existing high-rise residential buildings.

Legislative efforts to force pre-1975 era buildings to meet the code have been defeated multiple times through lobbying by building associations and others who say the retrofits would be too costly.

Honolulu’s Building Code currently requires all newly constructed multi-family apartment buildings be equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system, even if they are not a high-rise building. But Civil Beat reports that, just hours before the fire erupted, the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Hawaii had sent out an invitation for a celebratory pau hana to mark a new law passed this year (Act 053) that continues to prohibit counties from requiring single-family and duplex homes to have sprinklers. The BIA has since canceled the event.

Caldwell’s bill will not impact Act 053, as that law deals only with single-family and duplex homes, not high rise apartments. According to a survey conducted by the Honolulu Fire Department, there are approximately 300 high-rise apartment buildings on O‘ahu which currently do not have a fire sprinkler system.