Tax incentives needed for adding sprinklers
Honolulu fire officials say a lack of sprinklers heightened damage of a high-rise blaze.
FIRE that gutted a 25th-floor condominium near Kapiolani Boulevard
and injured six people is the latest reminder of why aging residential buildings need sprinkler systems. The City Council has seemed willing to approve such a requirement if state tax breaks are available, but the Legislature has dropped the ball. State lawmakers should approve such a deduction before the next blaze.
A 1975 city ordinance required new high-rises to have sprinklers, but existing buildings were exempted. Following the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel fire, the City Council in 1983 mandated retrofitting of older hotels. The Council required sprinklers in the 35 older commercial buildings in 2001, feeling the heat from a fire at the Interstate Building on King Street that injured 11 firefighters and caused extensive damage.
Still exempt are 312 residential buildings at least 75 feet high and built before 1976. Following the death of an elderly man in a Waikiki high-rise fire two years ago, Mayor Mufi Hannemann called on the Council to pass an ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in all high-rises.
The Council has resisted because of the burden on condo owners; sprinklers could cost between $4,500 and $13,000 per unit, according to Lloyd Rogers, a Honolulu fire battalion chief who heads the Fire Prevention Bureau. From 2000 through 2004, he said, 21 fires in high-rise buildings with sprinkler systems caused $175,410 in damage, while 46 fires in unequipped high-rises caused $2.7 million in damage.
A city advisory group headed by Rogers concluded two years ago that financial incentives are needed to persuade the 12,600 owners of older condos to install sprinklers. Legislation to provide tax breaks for such instal- lations has died in past sessions and has languished this year in the House after gaining Senate approval.
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