Thirty Five Percent of Los Angeles High Rise Apartments Lack Fire Sprinklers

The Los Angeles Times reports that although laws mandate that residential high-rises built before 1943 and after 1974 have fire sprinklers installed, that leaves a 30-year gap in which high-rises were built in Los Angeles without having to install sprinklers. By the city’s count, 71 of the city’s roughly 200 residential high-rises don’t have fire sprinkler systems installed.

The gap has been debated for years, but the Barrington fire has brought the issue into focus again.

“Disaster drives regulation,” said Los Angeles fire Battalion Chief Timothy Kerbrat. “If it’s a big disaster then the time to get the ordinance and changes take a little bit more time. If it’s not a big disaster, it’s a blip in the paper and we forget about it real quick.”

Los Angeles officials first made a push to retrofit all high-rises — commercial and residential — with sprinklers in 1988 after a fire at First Interstate Tower downtown killed one man and injured 40. But proponents opted to divide the proposal into two: one for businesses and one for residential.

“Our strategy at the time was: If we try to do them both we’re afraid we’re not going to get anything at all,” Kerbrat said.

Lawmakers approved retrofitting some 350 commercial buildings, but there was stronger resistance from residential building owners. The costs to retrofit were too high, they argued. It’s the same argument that was made in 2004 after a woman was critically burned in a tower in Koreatown.

“We’re always interested in providing clean, safe affordable housing,” said Jim Clarke, head of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. “If it doesn’t have fire sprinklers, it may not be the safest place to live, but at the same time you’re bound. Your hands are tied because of finances.”

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