Fire Sprinkler Systems Should Be A No-Brainer

A fire on January 28, 2015 in San Francisco left one dead and 60 tenants displaced. The building housed businesses and apartments and has become part of the argument about whether older buildings should be required to install fire sprinkler systems.

While San Francisco mandates that all new and renovated apartment buildings, commercial structures and hotels be equipped with sprinklers, there is no similar requirement for the many older apartment buildings.

The January fire is just one of many over the last two years that have resulted in four deaths, hundreds of people being displaced and millions of dollars in damage.

Although it seems like a no-brainer for tenants and landlords to be allies in the fight for sprinklers, there is some pushback based on the cost. A local report estimated it would cost $46,000 to retrofit three-unit buildings and $113,000 to $300,000 for 16-unit buildings, depending on the size.

Because the city allows landlords to raise rents to cover the cost of sprinkler retrofits, the idea is opposed by some tenants worried about higher rents in a city where housing costs are already expensive.

The report offers a solution – a recommendation that the Fire Department’s Bureau of Fire Prevention prioritize high-risk buildings for sprinkler retrofits. Creating criteria to assess which buildings need to be retrofitted gives this safety initiative a starting point. The report also recommends that the city offer property owners loans for the work.

Another solution that keeps costs low while effectively protecting the tenants is using CPVC, such as BlazeMaster® Pipe & Fittings, which are immune to the effects of pitting and corrosion, have excellent flame and smoke characteristics and lower installation costs compared to metallic systems.

The justification for spending the money is backed up by the data, given that the San Francisco Fire Department said five out of the six buildings damaged in the five-year period between 2010-2015 did not have sprinkler systems. The Budget and Legislative Analyst’s report found that San Francisco had 252 two-alarm or larger residential fires from 2004 to 2016.

In the end, fire sprinklers should not really be an option. A 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association found that the fire death rate was 82 percent lower in buildings with sprinkler systems than in those without them.

To read more, you can access the KQED News article here.

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