It's not just about the fire either; it's also about flame retardants and health.
Last week a man died on the 50th floor of the Trump Tower in New York City. The residential portion of the building did not have sprinklers; they did not become mandatory until 1998 and residential buildings did not have to be retrofitted. Then-developer Donald Trump, like most developers, complained that doing so is really expensive and retrofits are often ugly.
This is true; one either has ugly exposed pipes, or drop ceilings or bulkheads all over and it makes a real mess. It's fine and easy in lofts where exposed pipes are a feature, not a bug, but not in fancy Fifth Avenue suites. Even in Florida, where residential sprinkler retrofits are required, condo owners can get out of it if they provide other safety measures and install them in the corridors.
This is one event you really can’t blame Donald Trump for; nobody wanted to retrofit over occupants' heads. He had another under construction at the time the law was passed and was also exempt, but because nobody was living in it yet, he was able to put sprinklers in at a cost of $ 3 million, acknowledging at the time that “people feel safer with sprinklers.”
Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2018
Even his tweet, which many considered insensitive for not mentioning the victim, was true; the principle of fire protection at the time was to design an enclosure that would confine the fire and limit its spread for long enough that the fire department could respond to the alarm and put it out. And it did, albeit not before the fire killed the owner of the apartment. Alas, the theory is that there should be smoke detectors within the suite to warn the owner to get out, and they clearly didn’t.
The problem in a modern concrete, steel and drywall building is not the structure burning, but all the stuff in it. Here the owner had a lot of stuff, including “hundreds of guitars and ukeleles” that would burn nicely. Furniture with polyurethane foam cushions burn nicely too, even when they are full of toxic brominated fire retardants. There are also retardants in drapes, carpets and electronics. As I noted in an earlier post:
When retardant-laden materials do catch fire, (retardants, by definition, only slow it down) the chemicals are dangerous to breathe. One report says "The International Association of Firefighters supports bans on these chemicals because firefighters have been shown to be at much higher risk of cancer, heart, lung and other debilitating diseases caused by the dangerous gases created when fire retardants burn. If you are in your home when a fire starts, you are exposed to them too."
If we want to live in a healthy environment, we have to get rid of these flame retardants. To do that we should be using natural materials and minimizing the risk of fire by having sprinklers in every home, not just the ones in high rises.
If you are going to live in an older building that doesn’t have sprinklers, invest in a whole bunch of hard-wired and battery powered smoke detectors. Mix them all up with both photoelectric and ionizing units. If your vision and hearing isn’t top notch, get the ones with lights. Since 80 percent of the deaths in fires are caused by smoke inhalation, many people are buying these smoke masks that everyone has in Japan, $35 at Amazon.
It is another good reason to get rid of stuff and go minimalist. Don’t add to the fire load and don’t block the way to the exit. And sell that guitar collection.