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Fire Plan Makes 2 Exclusions : Apartments, Condos Won't Need Sprinklers

July 07, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Condominium and apartment buildings will not have to install automatic fire sprinkler systems under a revised proposal by Beverly Hills Fire Chief William M. Daley.

Last month, Daley proposed requiring all buildings at least 5 stories or 55 feet tall, including apartment and condominium buildings, to be retrofitted with sprinklers. His proposal, which he said would be among the toughest in the nation, also calls for automatic fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all new construction, including single-family homes.

But this week, after owners of condominiums and apartments complained that the cost was too high, Daley agreed to exclude residential high-rise buildings from his proposal.

Daley told the City Council this week at its weekly study session that a 1981 city ordinance requiring electrical smoke detectors in each bedroom and hallway in multifamily residential complexes should provide adequate fire protection.

1991 Deadline

Daley said that although he still would prefer that all buildings have automatic sprinkler systems, the smoke detectors in residential buildings could alert residents and the Fire Department quickly enough to minimize fire damage and protect lives.

Under the proposal, all commercial high-rise buildings would have to install the sprinklers by September, 1991.

The City Council will vote on the proposal July 19 as part of a package of other recommendations to update the Municipal Code, Uniform Building Code and Uniform Fire Code.

Daley made the proposal in response to a request by Councilman Bernard Hecht after the May 4 high-rise fire at the First Interstate Bank building in Los Angeles. One person died and 40 others were injured in the blaze, which destroyed the 12th to 15th floors of the 62-story building.

Hecht said he didn't view excluding residential buildings from the original proposal as succumbing to the demands of property owners.

"I don't think it was a matter of backing down," Hecht said. "We had never come up with a final conclusion. We were still seeking feedback, and we found that many condo owners and apartment owners felt this would be a real financial burden.

Insurance Savings

"If the chief didn't believe that lives were being adequately protected, then we wouldn't do it."

Daley said installing sprinklers in older buildings would cost between $2 and $5 per square foot. He said owners could expect to recoup the cost of installing the sprinklers in five to 10 years because of a significant reduction in insurance premiums.

However, some property owners feared that additional costs could be incurred if asbestos was found in the insulation of the building and had to be removed. Asbestos, used in insulation, has been found to cause cancer.

Daley said the cost of installing sprinklers in new single-family homes is $1,500 to $2,000, or about 1% of the total construction cost of an average home. He said that would be less than the cost of installing carpeting or a lawn sprinkler. He added that the percentage would be lower for homes in Beverly Hills, where construction costs are higher than average.

While the requirement for sprinklers in single-family homes is unusual, it is not unique. At least 10 cities in California require sprinkler systems in homes, including San Clemente and Salinas, according to Daley.

He said buildings under 55 feet are excluded because the city has adequate equipment to combat fires in such buildings.

The city has 32 buildings that are 75 feet or taller. The tallest is the new wing of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which is 14 stories.

Only two of those 32 buildings--the Beverly Hilton and the Saks Fifth Avenue department store--are fitted with sprinklers. Two other buildings, City Hall and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, are installing sprinklers.

Another 58 buildings, including 24 residential complexes, are between 55 and 75 feet. Fifty-two of those, including all but one of the residential buildings, do not have sprinkler systems.

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