Condo activists on Galt Mile still fighting sprinkler deadline

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel


Published February 27, 2010

Representatives of Florida condominiums are hoping the third time's the charm as they prepare for the next round in their ongoing battle to push back, or eliminate, the deadline for older buildings to retrofit their common areas with fire sprinklers.

Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill last year that would have extended the deadline from 2014 to 2025. Condominium residents and advocates are say the upgrades would be too costly to implement during an economic slowdown and that the buildings do not need sprinkler systems because they have fire safety plans already in place.

Pio Ieraci, president of the Galt Mile Community Association, worked with Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, on HB 561 and with Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland, on SB 1222, to create legislation that would allow condo associations to decide for themselves by vote whether to retrofit. A provision has also been added to push back the deadline to 2019, but Ieraci said that would be irrelevant if the bill passes.

"This affects over a million people," Ieraci said. "I expect it to be passed unanimously like it was last year."

Ieraci said Crist is convinced the sprinkler retrofit has to do with safety. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also vetoed the sprinkler retrofit bill in 2006.

"This is not a safety issue but an effort for pipe fitters and other unions for millions of dollars in contracts," Ieraci said.

However, Sarah Maman, a fire protection engineer for the North Miami Beach-based Fire, Life, Safety and Security Institute and a member of the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association, said several factors prove it's a safety issue.

"The contents burn and then smoke is the killer," Maman said. "We have people getting older who tend to live in high-rises, and they aren't going to go down 20 flights of stairs."

Maman cited a Feb. 4 Pompano Beach high-rise fire in which all residents were evacuated and could not return for days. That, she said, is a sign that it's not just the flames residents should be concerned with but the smoke as well.

Additionally, Maman said firefighters have to fight fires from inside high-rises, and sprinklers would keep them safe.

"It's going to be the condos vs. the firefighters, so we'll see what happens," she said.

After Crist vetoed the bill last year, he asked for a report from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The report, released in October, stated that sprinkler retrofitting would range in price from $503 to $8,633 per unit.

Maman said she is concerned the laws of supply and demand will drive up prices if many buildings wait until the last minute to retrofit.

"If you keep waiting, everyone will be scrambling to get it done and then the prices will soar," she said.