Los Angeles’ Tallest Meets Requirements Of New High-Rise Fire-Building Code
“For the first time since Los Angeles permitted buildings over 13 stories in height, we have an adequate high-rise fire-building code,” said Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal D.J. Brunetti, Los Angeles City Fire Department.
“In the past, Los Angeles never faced the high-rise problems of other cities,” he recalls. “Because of earthquakes, all structures in the city except the city hall and federal building were limited to 13 stories.”
In 1958, building codes were introduced that permitted taller buildings with certain specific construction requirements, most of them tied to earthquake safety and not necessarily to fire safety, the chief notes.
The new high-rise code became effective July 29 and affects all buildings over 75 feet. The code was developed by the fire department and the building and safety department, in consultation with builders, other experts and interested parties. Major points of the new code are:
- Central fire control station: This station to be used by fire fighters in emergencies. It can be combined with a building security center and it will be tied into the building communications control panel, the interior hard-wire sound-powered phone systems installed in the stairwells, fire and smoke detection and alarm systems, status display and control for the elevators, sprinkler valve status.
- Fire-resistant elevator lobby on each building level.
- One elevator in each bank keyed for fire department use with manual override controls.
- Controls in air-conditioning system to remove smoke.
- Entire building sprinklered.
- Pressurized stair shafts.
- Emergency helicopter landing facility on roof, minimum 100 X 100 feet.
The building must have emergency power sources capable of operating for two hours to maintain these systems on time.
—official photographs Los Angeles City Fire Department
Now that the code is in effect, Brunetti notes that “high-rise fire fighting actually starts on the planning board.”
He was particularly pleased that the city’s tallest building, the recentlyopened, 55-story Security Pacific Bank Tower, has incorporated all the new code requirements. Actually, they were not required because plans were approved before the effective date of the code.
“This tower is probably the most fire-safe of its type of structure in the United States today. It is a pleasure when builders show the interest to make a building as fire-safe as possible.”
Across the street from the Security Pacific Tower, the new 1500 room, $100 million John Portman Hotel is under construction.
Hotel will meet requirements
“This hotel will incorporate for the first time in such a building of high public occupancy, all the code requirements. This hotel will have the ultimate in fire-safety features,” Brunetti says.
The chief notes that as construction proceeds on the Portman Hotel and other new structures, fire fighting and fire prevention personnel will visit the site and observe how the building is “put together.”
In the downtown Bunker Hill redevelopment area, units from first-in stations 3, 9, 10, and 11, battalion and division commanders, have familiarized themselves with the new buildings and in the case of Security Pacific, the fire control center.
As to the heliport, Brunetti explains that Los Angeles City has a fleet of fire helicopters which could be used for both fire fighting and rescue operations. He points out that the heliport need not be FAA-approved for emergency use, but that some building developers might want to improve the heliport into a full-use landing facility.
Are the new code requirements the ultimate for complete high-rise fire safety?
“No,” Brunetti says, “these are probably basic, lowest level requirements acceptable to provide fire protection for people in the buildings.”
He acknowledges that the State of California may promulgate even more rigorous requirements in the future and may also require complete sprinklering of high-rise buildings and installation of other interior fire-protection features.
L.A. City also has enacted a tough code—the so-called Ponet Square Ordinance—requiring older apartments and hotels, to enclose stairways or install other fire protection systems. Building and safety inspectors are strictly enforcing this new ordinance and many owners have chosen to demolish their buildings rather than bring them up to code.
L.A. City suppression units are constantly planning and updating their attack plans for high-rise and highoccupancy structures, Brunetti points out.