Installing Sprinklers in Older High-Rises Could Take 4 Years

Because there are too few qualified installers and the installation process is often very complex, the retrofitting of 1,250 older high-rise buildings in California with automatic sprinkler systems could take as long as four years, a state Senate panel was told Friday.

Mandatory retrofitting, proposed this week at both state and local levels in response to the First Interstate Bank fire on May 4, might in some cases take even longer than that because dangerous asbestos removal would probably be done at the same time, various fire officials said.

Building owner representatives, meanwhile, said that retrofitting would be very expensive, and any law should include, if possible, either low-interest loans or tax breaks to cushion the economic impact.

The testimony came during a two-hour hearing held at City Hall by state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) on urgency legislation he introduced Wednesday to mandate sprinkler retrofitting in all high-rises built after 1974. State law passed in 1974 required sprinklers in new high-rises but did not apply retroactively to existing structures.

"It's been 14 years since the state has acted and I believe a new commitment is long overdue," Torres said.

Torres' bill calls for retrofitting by 1990, but the state lawmaker said after the hearing that the timetable was probably unrealistic and will be amended.

Torres' bill followed by one day a City Council action ordering the drafting of a retrofitting ordinance that could affect more than 500 privately owned Los Angeles high-rises that stand at least 75 feet above ground level.

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