sprinklers in high rises

There’s likely to be a lot of press about this in the next few days–a resident dies in a luxury high-rise apartment building that was constructed before sprinklers were mandatory, but whose owner lobbied the local authorities to keep a grandfather clause in the code.

Chicago failed to get rid  of its grandfathering exemption for residential high rises after the Cook County Administration Fire in 2003, and Grenfell Tower, infamously, was unsprinklered, so New York isn’t alone.  Chicago has put an alert requirement into their code, but news reports note that in the recent New York incident the only residents told to evacuate were told via texts from the building owner’s attorney (!).  

But no matter where this is happening, it’s unconscionable.  Published news reports note that the cost of retrofitting this tower with fire sprinklers would have come to about $4.00 per square foot.  Given this building’s rental costs of somewhere around $2000.00 per square foot, this seems like a ludicrously small investment–the building owner’s other notable Manhattan property was, in fact, retrofitted to ease tenant concerns in 1999.

Fire sprinklers are one of the great success stories of 20th century building technology–no multiple deaths have ever occurred in a skyscraper due to fire where the sprinkler system was working properly.  The fact that this landmark building isn’t sprinklered says a lot about its famous owner’s priorities, which should frankly trouble all of us.

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