Few U.S. cities mandate sprinklers in old residential towers
HONOLULU — A high-rise fire recently claimed the lives of three people in Honolulu, and the apartment building where the blaze broke out had no fire sprinklers.
The tower overlooking Waikiki was constructed in 1971, before sprinkles were required for new construction in the city, a trend echoed in major cities across the U.S.
While most cities mandate sprinklers in newly built high-rises, many older residential towers lack the safety measure. Here’s a look at policies in some of the country’s largest cities:
New York City requires older office buildings taller than 100 feet to install sprinkler systems. Residential high-rise buildings must install sprinkler systems if the building undergoes significant renovations, according to the city Department of Buildings.
High-rise buildings — except residential dwellings — constructed before 1974 are required to be retrofitted with sprinklers. Residential buildings erected before 1943 that are at least three stories high must have sprinklers in some areas, including stairways and hallways, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
For older high-rise buildings, most commercial towers are required to be retrofitted with sprinklers, but residential buildings are not, according to the city Department of Buildings.
All high-rise commercial buildings and residential buildings — except privately owned condominiums — must have sprinklers, according to the Houston Fire Department.
A city ordinance requires commercial buildings, but not residential buildings, to be retrofitted with sprinklers, according to the city Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Sprinklers must be installed in all residential and commercial high-rise buildings, regardless of age. There’s one exception: In residential high-rises with condominiums, only the common areas are required to have sprinklers, according to the city fire department.
The city had a sprinkler retrofitting law, but it was taken out of the municipal code, said Larry Trame, assistant fire marshal for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The department is pushing to reinstate the law, but it is facing pushback over the cost.
City officials say there are 89 high-rise residential buildings, including 23 with partial sprinkler coverage and three with none. Dallas does not require older residential buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers, according to the National Fire Sprinkler Association.
All high-rise buildings — including residential — were required to be retrofitted with sprinklers beginning in 1983. There were only 11 such buildings at the time, and they were given three years to comply. But it took a decade to get them all done, said Ray Simpson, the city’s deputy fire marshal.
In 1993, San Francisco required retrofitting high-rise commercial buildings and tourist hotels with sprinklers. But the requirement excluded residential and historic buildings, according to the city Department of Buildings.