As many of you may have read in global news, last Friday on July 14, 2017, Honolulu had its worst fire in history. The fire occurred on the 26th floor at the graceful Marco Polo building across from Waikiki along the Ala Wai canal. The fire started on the mauka (mountain) side of the building and moved over to the makai (ocean) side of the building up 3 floors. Several condominium owners were trapped in their unit (due to heavy smoke in their unit and hallways). The elevators were down and fire men had to climb a stairwell with equipment and hoses up at least 29 flights. The trade winds were blowing and fanned the fire to spread quickly. Unfortunately, the building was built in 1971 prior to stricter building codes which now require sprinkler systems. The fire captain remarked that “without a doubt, if there had been fire sprinklers, the fire would have been immediately contained to the unit where it started.” There were none. Sadly, there were three fatalities due most likely to smoke inhalation. Dozens of residents were subsequently displaced due to the fire, smoke and water damage to their units.
This fire, as well as London’s Grenfell Tower, raised the importance and awareness of older buildings throughout the U.S. Both fires occurred in buildings with no sprinkler systems. Should older buildings be required by law to retrofit them with sprinkler systems? On Monday following the fire, Honolulu Mayor Kirk CaldwellHonolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell introduced a bill Monday that would require sprinklers in all high-rise buildings regardless of when they were constructed. Many homeowner associations of buildings taller than 8 stories should have been meeting all week to discuss the issue. There are about 300 high-rises on Oahu that were built before a 1975 law made sprinkler systems mandatory in new structures, according to a survey conducted by the Honolulu Fire Department.