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Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Tax breaks needed
for sprinkler retrofit

Bullet The issue: The Interstate Building fire demonstrated the need for sprinklers in older buildings.

Bullet Our view: The City Council should provide tax breaks to help owners retrofit their buildings with sprinklers.

THE fire that gutted the top floor of the Interstate Building and damaged much of the rest of the building on April 1 may yet have positive results to offset the millions of dollars in damage and the injuries to 11 firefighters. The fire has spurred members of the City Council to propose measures to get sprinklers installed in Honolulu's older high-rise buildings.

The sprinkler law enacted in 1975 exempted existing buildings from the requirement. After the disastrous fire at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel in 1980, which killed 84 people and injured 500, the Council required retrofitting of sprinklers in older hotels. However, the ordinance did not affect commercial or residential buildings.

The Interstate fire, which has been described as the worst high-rise fire in the city's history, provided a grim illustration of the need to extend the sprinkler law. Fire Department officials said that if the building had been equipped with sprinklers the damage would have been much smaller. It could have been worse. The fact that the fire occurred on a Saturday rather than a weekday, when the building would have been fully occupied, probably saved lives.

There is, of course, the problem of the cost of retrofitting. Miles Kamimura, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said he can't argue against the need for retrofitting but believes many owners would have financial difficulties in complying. "Our market is so bad now some of these guys would just give the keys back to the bank (if forced to retrofit)," he said.

The financial difficulty is compounded by the fact that the buildings affected are older structures and their value may have declined. Coming up with the money for the refitting without help from government may be impossible for some owners.

Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura has acknowledged that the city has to encourage the owners by offering tax breaks. In addition, owners must be given a realistic length of time to install the sprinklers -- at least five years.

On the positive side, owners can expect to pay less in insurance premiums once the sprinklers have been installed, but this saving will fall far short of the cost of retrofitting.

Yoshimura and Councilman Andy Mirikitani have introduced sprinkler bills since the Interstate fire that would apply to commercial high-rises. But there is no reason to continue to exempt residential buildings, which, if anything, have a greater potential for disaster.

Both commercial and residential buildings should have been required to have the retrofits years ago. Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster to spur action when it means spending money.

Honolulu has gone for many years without a major high-rise fire, but now it's had one, in all probability because the building had no sprinklers.

There can be no excuse for continuing to ignore this danger when the solution is at hand.

Fiftieth anniversary
of the Korean War

Bullet The issue: The Korean War began 50 years ago in June 1950 with the invasion of South Korea by Communist North Korea.

Bullet Our view: The defense of Korea showed the world that the United States and its allies were willing to resist Communist aggression.

WITH the approach of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, what has been called the forgotten war will receive a measure of attention. The award this week of a Pulitzer Prize to the Associated Press for reports concerning that conflict should jog some memories.

Unfortunately, the reports dealt with criminal behavior by American troops -- the killing of hundreds of civilians in the Korean village of No Gun Ri. Interviews with war veterans and survivors confirmed accounts of the massacre.

The accounts tarnished the record of U.S. forces in Korea, but it is important that unpalatable facts be known. War isn't simply good against evil. All soldiers are not heroes.

But some are, and the vast majority brave danger to do their jobs. It would be a mistake to tar Korean War veterans with the No Gun Ri slaughter, any more than it would to condemn Vietnam veterans for My Lai.

The Korean War ended in stalemate, a stalemate that continues half a century after it began. American forces are still based in Korea near the Demilitarized Zone.

But the Americans who fought in Korea helped to build a better world for the Korean people. South Korea has flourished spectacularly under U.S. protection while Communist North Korea is in dire straits, unable even to feed its people.

Tomorrow South Korea holds free parliamentary elections, which would have been inconceivable if North Korea's invasion of the South had gone uncontested.

Those Americans also helped to stem the Communist tide in Asia. China had fallen to the Communists only a year earlier. Communism was gaining strength in Malaya, Indochina and the Philippines.

The battle for Korea helped to spare Japan from the threat of Communist invasion and showed the world that the United States and its allies were prepared to resist the Communist advance.

This country paid a high price in blood for the defense of Korea, but those who fell contributed much to the security we enjoy today.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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