Find common ground to make buildings safer
The tragic high-rise fire at the Marco Polo Condominiums reminds us all of the fragility and sanctity of human life.
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The tragic high-rise fire at the Marco Polo Condominiums reminds us all of the fragility and sanctity of human life. We grieve for those whose lives were lost and our heartfelt sympathies go to those still recovering and who lost their homes and possessions.
As a community, we witnessed a strong tower built of concrete and steel become engulfed in a conflagration as our Honolulu Fire Department, police and other law enforcement agencies rushed to the scene to save lives and property. They deserve our deepest respect, gratitude and admiration for their extraordinary bravery and professionalism whenever called into action.
It was soon revealed that the Marco Polo, as well as many other low, mid and high-rises built prior to 1974 do not have fire sprinklers. The challenge of installing fire sprinklers in older buildings is a decades-long issue that has eluded many state and county administrations, and not due to insignificant reasons. The issue has centered on the high costs to retrofit buildings and how an association of apartment owners (AOAO) manages its properties. In accordance with association bylaws and legal requirements, owners — working through their boards — make decisions for repair, maintenance and capital improvement projects based on assessments of their financial condition and overall needs. These decisions reflect the will of the majority of owners.
Heightened discussions over fire safety also brought confusion over Act 53, which Gov. David Ige signed into law on June 22. Act 53 extends the existing prohibition on county requirements for fire sprinklers in single-family and two-family homes for 10 years. The Building Industry Association of Hawaii (BIA), along with many other housing-related organizations, supported this legislation, which keeps fire sprinklers optional. Act 53 does not, in any way, address fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings. Its purpose and intent is to strike a balance between safety and affordability for single-family and two-family homes.
BIA has always advocated safe, well-built and affordable homes for the people of Hawaii. Our members take pride in building thriving communities that hundreds of thousands of local residents call home. As Hawaii is experiencing an epic housing crisis with median prices for single-family homes reaching $795,000 last month, we remain committed to increasing the supply of safe and affordable housing at all price points.
New homes include safety features such as hard-wired smoke alarms, fire-resistant drywall and advanced electrical wiring systems. High-tech controls that can monitor and turn off unattended cooking appliances also are available at a fraction of the cost of fire sprinklers, which run into tens of thousands of dollars for typical single-family homes.
The Marco Polo tragedy underscores the need for government, safety officials, condo associations/property managers and Hawaii’s building industry to build common ground and work together to improve safety for high-rise buildings that are not equipped with fire sprinklers. BIA is committed to supporting sensible policies and finding workable solutions that will give peace of mind to all those who continue to live in these buildings.
Evan Fujimoto is the president of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.