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    News / In Depth

    After Dec. 06 NLB Apt. Blaze, City Staff Advised Letting Pre-1974 High Rise Buildings Avoid Sprinkler Retrofits For Up To Ten Years

    Read What City Staff Told Council's Public Safety Committee...Still Considering Issue

    (March 29, 2007) -- Barely a month after the December 8, 2006 NLB Paradise Garden fire, believed to be the worst residential blaze in LB's history, LB city staff recommended letting nearly half of LB's existing high rise buildings avoid retrofitting with sprinklers for up to ten years.

    That recommendation -- first presented to the City Council's Public Safety Committee on January 7, 2007 -- is now by coincidence tentatively scheduled to return to the Council's Public Safety Committee on April 3...

    ...a discussion made even more somber by the March 28 Galaxy high rise fire (2999 E. Ocean Blvd.) in which a resident is believed by witnesses to have jumped to his death to avoid approaching flames.
    2999 Ocean Fire March 28/07
    Mar. 28, 2007, 2999 E. Ocean Blvd.
    Screen save courtesy ABC7 Eyewitness News

    [update] The L.A. County Coroner's office has identified the decedent John Carlyle Crews, 60. [end update]

    The 20-story Galaxy Bluff-park area luxury high rise, like the three story NLB Paradise Garden apartment complex, was built before fire codes required sprinklers. Unlike a number of other major CA cities, the City of LB via its City Council has not adopted stricter fire codes requiring sprinkler retrofits.

    Following the December 2006 NLB blaze in which two people perished, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Councilwoman Rae Gabelich requested a report from the Fire Dept. and Dept. of Planning & Building on fire suppression and fire alert requirements for pre-1974 buildings. City management (via LBFD Fire Chief Dave Ellis) presented an overview report and the Council referred the matter for detailed consideration by its Public Safety Committee (chair, Councilman Val Lerch; vice Chair Councilwoman Rae Gabelich; member Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske).

    On January 7, 2007, the Public Safety Committee convened to consider the matter. It received a detailed report and a verbal overview of the report from city management via a combined report from the LB Fire Dept. via Deputy Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Hank Teran and the Dept. of Planning and Building official Larry Brugger.

    Planning & Building official Brugger said fire codes had become more restrictive over time, but the increased restrictions applied only to new construction...and didn't require retrofitting for existing buildings.

    Fire Marshal Teran told the Council's Public Safety Committee said he considered the installation of fire sprinklers "are of paramount importance for all types of occupancies, but especially for residential occupancies."

    He continued, "Because fire sprinklers react so quickly, they dramatically reduce the amount of heat, flames and smoke produced in a fire. Fire sprinklers are remarkably 96% effective in controlling a fire, and together with smoke detectors, cut the risk of dying in a home fire by 82%. In fact -- this is a statistic that I to this day find amazing -- is the fact that there has never been a documented case of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinklered public assembly, educational institutional or even a residential building when fire sprinklers were working properly."

    Fire Marshal Teran reported that city staff had found that over thirty CA cities had adopted more restrictive fire codes than the so-called "model" fire codes [i.e. used by the City of LB.] He indicated that in 1989, the City of Glendale adopted a retrofit ordinance for fire sprinklers in existing retail and non-retail occupancies where building modifications were made.

    "Other cities, such as the City of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose have all adopted a variety of retrofit ordinances for existing buildings. In fact, the City of San Jose fire sprinkler ordinance of 1990 requires all high rise buildings to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers," Fire Marshal Teran reported, adding "Staff found that by adopting more restrictive code requirements for fire protection systems, it's common and consistent with other jurisdictions."

    He estimated the retrofit cost could be up to $6.00 sq. ft for high rises (amount could vary) but noted lower insurance rates could also result.

    Fire Marshal Teran then indicated that city staff recommended what he called a "reasonable time frame" for adopting retrofits which takes into account the financial and logistical problems for owners.

    "Building owners may have logistic issues, such as getting access to occupied tenant areas, possible tenant relocation, possible asbestos abatement, noise disruptions and other inconveniences. Staff understands these concerns and believes it is essential that a reasonable time frame be established that takes into consideration the financial and logistical problems associated with retrofitting of existing occupancies," he said on behalf of city staff.

    Fire Marhsal Teran said staff's recommendation was that the City Council require all existing high rise buildings, as defined by the CA Building Code, to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers within ten years.
    2999 Ocean Fire March 28/07
    Mar. 28, 2007; 2999 Ocean Blvd.
    Screen save courtesy ABC7 Eyewitness News

    "The ten year time frame will enable owners to budget costs over an extended period of time. Specific benchmarks would be identified such as plan submittal, plan approval [and] installation over that ten year time frame," Fire Marshal Teran said. He added that this would apply to 46% of LB's high rise buildings.

    NLB fire Dec. 8/06For existing multi family residential hotels and motels and similar buildings containing fifty or more units, city staff recommended sprinkler retrofits within five years. "This would require large type residential occupancies, similar to [NLB's} Paradise Gardens, to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers. The requirement would be over a five year period to assist owners and with costs and logistics associated with the retrofit. According to the Los Angeles County Assessor's office records, there are approximately 100 multi-family residential occupancies that could be affected by this requirement."

    (Photo above shows some of the worst damaged areas from Dec. 8 NLB Paradise Garden apartment fire.)

    On January 7, 2007, the Council's Public Safety Committee made a motion (passed 3-0) to request the City Manager "to assist the Committee in outlining financial strategies that would provide incentives for retrofitting; to work with the Apartment Associations about their ideas on retrofitting and educating the public; to work with the Fire Insurance industry to look for incentives and educational programs; and report back to the committee in 45-60 days."

    The item was scheduled to return to the Committee in early April...which we presume means April 3 (the Committee agenda wasn't posted as of Thursday morning).

    As reported on March 28 as breaking news shortly before 10:00 p.m. on's front page, a man jumped to his death from the 18th floor of The Galaxy high rise.

    The fire progressed to three alarms. LBFD PIO Nash says the call came in at 9:37 p.m. and the first LBFD unit was on scene within three minutes.

    Flames were on 18th floor with smoke extension to 19th floor...and some residents were above the fire (it's a 20 story building) and there were multiple rescues.

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