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Editorials
Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Sprinklers are needed
in all high-rise buildings

Bullet The issue: The Interstate Building fire has been described as the worst high-rise blaze in Honolulu history.

Bullet Our view: The City Council should require sprinkler systems in all high rises.

THE Interstate Building fire ought to spur the Honolulu City Council to strengthen the law requiring sprinkler systems in high rises.

The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas was not equipped with a complete sprinkler system and was not required to be by Nevada law. In the wake of the 1980 fire in the hotel in which 84 persons died and 500 were injured, the Honolulu Council in 1983 required all hotels taller than 75 feet -- including those built previously -- to have sprinklers and smoke detectors in every room.

However, the ordinance did not apply to commercial and residential buildings, although commercial high-rise structures built after 1978 were required to have a sprinkler system. Since 1994, smoke detectors have been mandatory for all residential buildings taller than 75 feet.

Because the Interstate Building, which was hit by a devastating fire last Saturday, was constructed in 1974, it was not required to have sprinklers. That omission probably contributed to making the Interstate fire the worst high-rise blaze in the history of the Honolulu Fire Department. Although no lives were lost and no tenants were injured, 11 firefighters required treatment at hospitals and one remains hospitalized. Damage estimates are in the millions of dollars.

The manager of the Interstate Building said the owners considered installing a sprinkler system in 1998 but decided it would be too costly -- about $1 million. That decision turned out to be a huge miscalculation.

Deputy Fire Chief John Clark said the Interstate fire was "an extraordinary event. We've lost an apartment or business before, but never an entire floor until now."

Battalion Chief Kenneth Silva said sprinklers would have made a big difference. "All studies have proven that sprinkler systems are the most effective way to put out fires," he added.

Firefighters in Honolulu frequently have to deal with high-rise fires, but most buildings have fire-protection systems and usually the fires are quickly extinguished. Without sprinklers, however, high-rise fires can be disastrous. The next fire in a high-rise building lacking sprinklers could be even worse than the Interstate fire.

The disaster ought to revive interest in strengthening the city-county law requiring sprinklers to make retrofitting mandatory in commercial and residential high-rises. Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, citing the injuries to firefighters and the losses to affected businesses in the Interstate fire, said such action should be reconsidered despite its cost. Yoshimura is right. Lives as well as property are at stake.


State should expand
gun restrictions

Bullet The issue: States are beginning to take bold actions to regulate firearms while Congress remains bogged down on the issue.

Bullet Our view: Hawaii should prepare to toughen its gun restrictions in the continued absence of congressional action.

MASSACHUSETTS and Maryland have taken unprecedented measures to control handguns. Similar legislation is under consideration by as many as a dozen other states. The movement should prompt Congress to set a national standard to render unnecessary increasingly divergent state laws.

Hawaii has been reputed in recent years to have the strictest gun-control standards in the country. However, its rules fall short of the scope of a decision by Massachusetts to ban cheap handguns known as "Saturday Night Specials," require child-proof locks on any gun sold in the state and enforce requirements that guns come with safety warnings, tamper-resistant serial numbers and indicators on semi-automatic weapons showing whether a bullet is in the chamber.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has said he will sign a bill enacted by the Legislature to require that new handguns be equipped by 2003 with built-in locks allowing no one but the authorized users to fire them. Until then, all guns sold in Maryland must be equipped with external locks. Glendening predicted that six to 12 states will move forward on similar legislation within the next year and a half.

The state actions follow an agreement by gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson to provide safety locks on its handguns within 60 days and to make them child-resistant within a year. Other gun makers have denounced the agreement as traitorous, but Smith & Wesson's standards eventually should become industry-wide.

Hawaii's Legislature appears ready in the current session to approve mental-health history and criminal-record checks on registered gun owners on a staggered basis every five years. However, a proposed requirement that all newly sold guns be equipped with technology allowing them to be used only by the authorized owners died in committee.

The gun-control measures in Massachusetts and Maryland are encouraging indications of a trend toward stricter controls at the state level. Hawaii should prepare to adopt similar regulations next year if Congress continues to refuse to take action.






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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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