If there was a fire in your building, are you confident that you and your family would be adequately warned, protected and saved? If you're not absolutely certain, consider this: last year, there were 27,788 structural fires in New York City in which 125 people died. Although property owners are required to provide residents with smoke alarms, it is the tenant's responsibility to maintain them. There are no fire extinguisher requirements inside homes, and while newly constructed buildings are now legally required to incorporate a sprinkler system, older buildings are often not upgraded.
According to Richard Skinner, northeast regional manager of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, New York City is more than a decade behind in updating antiquated fire prevention codes, putting buildings and lives at risk.
"The most important thing New York needs to do is to get on a ten- or 15-year plan to retrofit all existing buildings with sprinkler systems," says Skinner. New York City Local Law 10 was enacted in March of 1999, mandating that all newly constructed multifamily dwel-lings must be fully protected by fire sprinklers. The law is retroactive for all dwellings having more than three units. For existing buildings, sprinklers have to be installed: as renovations, or as alterations with costs totaling more than 50 percent of the value of the building.
"I know building owners and the real estate industry really want sprinklers and are afraid of the costs, but it's cheaper to put the sprinklers in then they think," says Skinner. "The financial devastation resulting from a fire far outweighs the costs of putting in a sprinkler system. In a building where there is no sprinkler system, the entire building can burn to the ground, tenants are displaced, the building is no longer on the tax role, lives may be lost, and insurance costs go up," says Skinner. "If firefighters are killed, there are payments to those families - and while the fire is happening, more of the city is being compromised because the fire department is at that scene. These costs far outweigh the price of a sprinkler system."
According to the National Fire Sprinkler Association, the costs for installing fire sprinkler systems in buildings six to eight stories high ranges from under a dollar to about $2 per square foot in most new construction, and from about $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot for retrofitting sprinklers in existing buildings.