Fire safety panel offers some relief to residents
Hundreds turned out Saturday for a forum on fire safety in residential buildings after the deadly Marco Polo high-rise blaze, with several attendees praising the panel for its usefulness.
“It was an excellent forum, to my surprise,” said Hawaii Kai resident Steve Ugelow. “The panel was well-prepared.” Ugelow, who lives in the Esplanade condominium project, said his property does not have a sprinkler system and one estimate was that it would cost $15,000 per unit to install sprinklers.
“The thing on everybody’s mind is, ‘Are we going to be forced to put sprinklers in our buildings at great cost?’” he said. Ugelow said after listening to the panel, he felt officials were more flexible than what has been portrayed in the media about retrofitting older buildings.
City Council members Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi, Joey Manahan and Trevor Ozawa requested Saturday’s meeting at Mission Memorial Auditorium to discuss fire safety following the Marco Polo blaze, in which three people died and five others were injured on July 14. The fire caused more than $100 million in damage.
After the Marco Polo fire, the City Council considered Bill 69 to retrofit older high-rise buildings with sprinkler systems, but on Aug. 22 deferred the measure to gather more information. On Oahu, there are 358 residential high-rise condominium properties and
hundreds of other residential structures more than 75 feet tall without sprinkler systems, according to the Honolulu Fire Department. Fire Chief Manuel Neves has said fire officials support mandatory sprinklers in high-rises.
At Saturday’s meeting, industry experts and fire safety professionals discussed fire safety regulations, prevention strategies, insurance and city loans to help the public. They also fielded questions from the audience.
Debbie Jernberg-Daley, manager for the Courtyards at Punahou, a luxury condo with 12 floors on Beretania Street, said the information from the panel reassured her about the current fire safety procedures at her building and also provided areas for improvement.
She said her condo, which already has sprinklers, has many fire prevention features such smoke alarms and solid doors that automatically close, but she wants to do more to educate her homeowners on evacuation procedures and other fire safety measures. Nancy Etzrodt, a board member of the Kalia condominium project in Waikiki, said she watched the Marco Polo fire from her condo and “everyone is so scared after that.”
She said the panel reinforced her confidence in the safety measures at her condo, which was built in 1959 and does not have sprinklers. She made notes on tips such as fire-retardant paint and reducing plastic in curtains and furnishings. After the meeting, HFD Assistant Chief Socrates Bratakos said a residential fire safety advisory committee was formed at the request of the City Council to come up with recommendations for Bill 69.
He said the committee is looking for ways to improve affordability for retrofitting buildings, such as reducing city fees and adding potential exemptions for places that don’t need a full sprinkler system.
“We’re trying to figure out where it’s best needed or not needed,” he said after the meeting. “Any other sorts of fire prevention systems, depending on how the building is built and maintained, can be good to maintain a minimum level of safety.”