San Francisco Fire Department officials are seeking changes to building rules that would require high-rise elevators to be better resistant to damage caused by fires.
The changes, which could eventually impact the way buildings in San Diego are constructed, would apply to structures of more than 30 floors or 300 feet in height.
That Bay Area city’s Fire Department is pushing the change so elevators can be used as a safe tool to transport occupants, firefighters and equipment quickly.
The state Building Standards Commission has adopted new rules that take effect in 2008. But the modifications are largely structural, and include new seismic design standards , not increased elevator safety.
The new standards are to replace the 2001 code now being used throughout the state.
Proposals in San Francisco could pave the way for code changes in other cities, including San Diego.
“There has been a lot of discussions on smoke-safe and fire-safe elevators but these provisions have not been incorporated into the new California Building Standards Code,” said David Walls, executive director of the standards commission.
Walls said that the issue of smoke-safe and fire-safe elevators is a concern for many, including some fire and rescue personnel. He said discussions are expected to continue on elevator safety measures for some time to come as California cities undergo a high-rise building boom.
San Diego has 166 high-rise properties, defined as any building 75 feet or taller from the lowest level of access for a fire department vehicle to the level of the highest occupied floor.
A Local Perspective
San Diego Fire Marshal Samuel Oates said change in high-rise fire codes regarding elevators is not needed here.
He said current state building code, coupled with the fire department’s standard practice of dispatching a minimum number of apparatus to any alarm in a high-rise, already creates safety.
“We realize it will take firefighters a certain amount of time fully dressed in their safety equipment and also carrying equipment up there, including hoses, lights and axes, but it is just part of our jobs,” said Oates.
Most buildings are considered very safe because of the strict building and fire codes under which they were built, said Oates.
Oates said San Diego firefighters use building stairs because of concerns with elevators during a fire.
“It takes time, it takes a lot of time depending on where the fire is to get a fire force up there, but that is reason why we have high-rise operational procedures,” said Oates.
While Oates does not see the need for amendment changes to fire code similar to San Francisco’s proposal, he does hope to see one change here in San Diego.
He’s seeking a change in fire code to require the retrofitting of 17 residential high-rises with fire sprinklers.
He plans to present this proposed code change to the San Diego Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services on March 28.
“I am proposing it be done in seven years,” said Oates. “First year would be to submit plans and then a third of the retrofits be complete every two years.”
Estimated cost of the retrofit ranges from $500,000 to $2 million each, depending on the size of the buildings.
Between 1968 and 1988, sprinklers were not required in high-rise buildings in San Diego County. After 1988, sprinkler retrofits were ordered for 155 high-rise buildings countywide.
More High-Rises Coming
Emporis Building, a German real estate information company, reports that San Diego has 23 proposed, 21 approved and 18 high-rise projects under construction.
The proposed Mondrian between A and B streets and Eighth and Ninth avenues could soon be home to thousands of residents. The 42-floor project contains 247 condominiums, 620 rental units and 48,000 square feet of rental space.
Library Tower on K Street and Park Boulevard in East Village is under construction.
When completed next year, the 478-foot-tall project will be the tallest residential tower in San Diego.
The Mondrian and Library Tower will join the skyline with sister high-rises, the Manchester Grand Hyatt and Symphony Towers.
The 40-floor Manchester Grand Hyatt boasts being one of the tallest waterfront buildings on the West Coast at 497 feet.
At 499 feet, Symphony Towers is reportedly the second tallest building in the city behind One America Plaza at 500 feet tall.
In addition to the stringent fire codes for high-rises, including fire-resistant construction, fire control room, alarm systems, standpipes and sprinkler systems, buildings 500 feet or taller have to meet added requirements to be considered safe.
These skyscrapers need to be equipped with a pump room halfway up the building to assure adequate water pressure to the top floors in the event of a fire.
The Centre City Development Corp. has invested millions to increase fire safety in the past few years as downtown builds out and up.
The CCDC, the city’s planning and redevelopment agency that oversees downtown redevelopment projects, recently approved a $1.5 million grant to improve building standards at Fire Station No. 1 on First Avenue, and has purchased future sites for stations.
The agency recently purchased a lot at the corner of Cedar Street and Pacific Highway to make sure a fire company is located on the west side of the railroad tracks.
Currently, a freight train could block access to waterfront properties.
“We fully recognize having full and adequate fire protection downtown is important,” said Derek Danziger with the CCDC.