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Absence of fire sprinklers lead to damaged apartments

Posted on by SST

For the second time since July, apartment building in the bay area have been subject to severe damage citing a lack of basic fire safety equipment such as fire sprinklers.

Although the 73-unit Terrace Apartments building in Redwood City was fitted with a smoke detector in each individual room, Lewis Broschard, Contra Costa County  fire marshal suggested the building that later became engulfed in flames did not have a comprehensive, automatic sprinkler system, the San Ramon Express reported.

California law requires buildings built since 1989 to maintain a fire sprinkler system, however that does not pertain to buildings constructed prior or vintage buildings. 

The issues of fire safety and apartment codes have been an ongoing dispute between residents, apartment owners and city and building officials, The Daily Journal reported. Apartment-dwellers in favor of mandatory residential sprinkler systems for rental properties are being met with opposition from apartment owners such as Dan Feller, president of the Apartment Owners Association of California, Inc.

Feller said one of the primary issues facing the lack of sprinkler systems is the financial burden he maintained is passed on to the owner. "We always go back to who is going to pay for it," Feller said. "If they're going to pass a law like that, where's the money?"

However, Craig Oliver, president of California Building Officials compared the cost of the sprinklers to the value of a life, saying there is a perception out there that fire suppression systems are prohibitively expensive.

City Councilman John Seybert agrees there is a financial hurdle due to lack of ample resources, but reiterates to the San Mateo Daily Journal that the municipal fire codes are "not to protect the pretty buildings but the people inside." 

Seybert, a former volunteer firefighter and advocate of a strong fire alarm system and sprinkler system, further suggested the absence of sprinkler equipment is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fire hazards and updating structures, saying real progress in fire safety will require revamping the "whole gamut of how things are built."

Until then, Oliver and Councilman Jeff Gee agree the status of updating systems and inputting change is slow and may hinge upon a major disaster to occur as a reason to spur action.

Gee added his next concern is the ability for older buildings with sprinkler systems in place to withstand earthquakes, as to not cause damage to surrounding buildings.

"It's kind of grim to say this, but we need another disaster," Oliver said. "We didn't get earthquake provisions until the (Loma Prieta) quake."

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