A deadly blaze ravaged three upper floors of a 36-story residential condominium tower in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, following on the heels of a high-rise fire in London that killed dozens of residents. These two examples of the devastating effects of fire also highlight the importance of having comprehensive fire systems in place no matter how old a building. Florida Governor Rick Scott agrees.
Three people died in the fire at Honolulu’s Marco Polo condominiums earlier this month. The fire took over 100 firefighters about 4 hours to extinguish, disrupted the oceanfront tourist district, and misplaced residents. Thick smoke forced the closure of a major road in the city. Had there been proper life safety protection at Marco Polo, the outcome would not have been as devastating, according to fire officials on the scene.
“Without a doubt if there was sprinklers in this apartment, the fire would be contained to the unit of origin,” said Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves.
The Marco Polo fire shows that the absence of sprinklers and engineered life safety systems in some older buildings creates an extremely dangerous environment for both residents and first responders in an emergency. Sprinklers became mandatory in Honolulu high-rises in 1974. The 596-unit Marco Polo opened in 1971, 3 years earlier.
Pointing to a high-rise fire in London that killed dozens of residents, Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill last month that would have eased fire-protection requirements for older condominium buildings in Florida. Coincidently, the Honolulu high-rise fire was a month to the day after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the London high-rise fire Scott references. At least 80 people died in the London fire, also an older building unequipped with sprinklers.
HB 653 dealt with requirements for retrofitting high-rise condominium buildings with fire sprinklers and other types of safety systems. Condominium buildings three stories or more, constructed since 1994, are required to have sprinkler systems. Older high-rise buildings built before 1994 would not have to comply with the requirement. The bill would have pushed the 2019 deadline back to 2022 and allowed condominium residents to opt out of retrofitting with sprinklers and engineered life safety systems.
In his veto statement Scott replied: “Since my first day as governor, I have fought to make Florida the safest and most affordable place to live and raise a family. Decisions regarding safety issues are critically important, as they can be the difference between life and death. Fire sprinklers and enhanced life safety systems are particularly effective in improving the safety of occupants in high-rise buildings and ensure the greatest protection to the emergency responders who bravely conduct firefighting and rescue operations. While I am particularly sensitive to regulations that increase the cost of living, the recent London high-rise fire, which tragically took at least 79 lives, illustrates the importance of life safety protections.”
Fire organizations applaud Florida Governor Scott for his veto of HB 653, fearing the bill would have weakened fire codes. Julius Halas, director of the Division of State Fire Marshal, and leaders of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, and the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association had sent a letter to Scott urging a veto.