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Panel Backs Law to Require Sprinklers for Tall Buildings

November 24, 1988|HECTOR TOBAR | Times Staff Writer

A proposed ordinance that would require installation of automatic sprinklers in existing Glendale buildings over 3 stories high has been unanimously approved by the Building Commission.

If approved by the City Council, the ordinance would affect 28 buildings, including 11 residential buildings that do not have sprinkler systems, Fire Marshal Christopher Gray said.

"The Fire Division believes that it is urgent and necessary to install special systems in these buildings," Fire Chief John Montenero told the commission at a meeting last week. "Any building not protected by sprinklers is at risk."

The time period required for installation of sprinklers would vary according to the size of the building, Gray said. Buildings above 75 feet in height would have 4 years to comply with the new law, and "mid-rise" buildings between 55 feet and 75 feet would have 5 years. Buildings below 55 feet in height would have 6 years to comply.

$8-Million Tab

Gray estimated that it would cost owners of the buildings about $8 million to install sprinklers.

More than 20 residents of an apartment building on Glendale Avenue objected to the ordinance and told the commission that it would lead to higher rents.

John Day, one of the owners of the 96-unit apartment building, said rents would be increased 10% to raise the $300,000 necessary to install a sprinkler system.

"As far as I'm concerned, we have no need of sprinklers," said Lucille Johnston, one of about a dozen elderly residents who addressed the commission. "I think it's a burden you're putting on us."

"I'd rather die than have them raise the rent," an unidentified man shouted.

'Rent Scare'

Montenero objected to what he called a "rent scare" by the building's owner. "Is it right that the owner of a building . . . not provide the fire protection that is guaranteed to work?" he asked.

Commissioner Sebastiano Sterpa argued that the safety of the city as a whole outweighs the objections of one group of tenants. "There is a human element here, lives that possibly could be saved," he said.

Automatic sprinklers are the most effective form of fire prevention, putting out fires 97% of the time, Gray said. "There is no way we can replace the existence of automatic fire sprinklers in a building. That's the one thing we have extreme confidence in. They're always on duty."

Glendale's fire code requires sprinklers in all new buildings except one- and two-family dwellings and businesses with less than 1,000 square feet of floor space, Gray said.

Gray said the Fire Division is studying another ordinance that would require sprinklers in new single-family dwellings. Fires in single-family dwellings account for the highest loss of life, he said.

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