Fire safety panel of­fers some re­lief to res­i­dents

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Rob Shik­ina rshik­ina@starad­ver­

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.”

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