Supervisors consider pulling
fire air System requirement
By Maya Strausberg
October 3, 2007
Members of the San Francisco Firefighters Association met with
the Board of Supervisors today to urge them to keep in place a
fire code that requires new high rises to be built with a firefighter
air system (FAS), which would allow firefighters to refill their
air tanks on multiple floors instead of hauling full air tanks
to upper floors.
But the Building Owners and Managers Association, which is trying
to get the requirement pulled, is sticking to its guns that the
system is a waste of money.
BOMA Director of Government and Public Affairs Ken Cleaveland
said today that this is not an issue of safety but one of money.
"This has been blown out of proportion," said Cleaveland.
"It was never brought to the building owners association."
He believes that the supervisors never knew what they were passing
because they were not told that the system is patented.
He also argued that the system is a waste of money because the
high rises already have existing systems.
What Cleaveland has referred to are the "firefighter elevators"
that the union has argued are unproven and untested.
"Firefighters need two things to fight fire: water and a
constant, reliable supply of breathing air available when and
where they need it throughout the structure," said John Hanley,
president of the FFA in a statement. "You can't trust an
elevator. They malfunction and firefighters die."
Cleaveland's argument is that the firefighters are using this
issue to target the Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White. "The firefighters
are in a spat because they don't like the new fire chief because
she is a woman and because she is a lesbian," he said. "It's
become a personal issue.
"The real issue here is that the firefighters association
Cleaveland says the FAS is "way overkill," and is unnecessary
with elevators that are water- and pressure-proof. But Richard
Bukowski, an engineer for the National Institute of Standards
and Technology, disagrees.
"The protected elevator is not a substitute for a firefighter
air system," he said. "Another issue for San Francisco
and elevators is earthquakes. With sufficient lateral acceleration
the elevator system will shut down and cannot be reset until after
it is inspected by the elevator technicians after determining
the system can operate safely."
Cleaveland though says that any earthquake that would shut down
the elevators would also shut down the FAS.
"How can you trust a piping system in an earthquake?"
he asked. "It's all about scare tactics."
FAS spokesman Dave Hyams agrees with Cleaveland that the issue
is about money. He says BOMA doesn't want the FAS to be required
because they don't want to pay for it.
But Hyams says the cost for BOMA to install the FAS into new
buildings is only 0.3 percent of the total building costs. He
quoted the finances of the new One Rincon Center, which cost $300
million to construct but cost only $700,000 to install the FAS.
Hyams said that there are over 300 building across the country
that use the system. He added that the patent argument has no
bearing because there are a few different manufacturers that make
Hyams also said the idea of just using "firefighter elevators"
is ridiculous because the technology doesn't exist yet.
"They are relying on an elevator," he said. "They
are relying on a concept."
The meeting today with the supervisors, the SFFA, former fire
department officials and other firefighter organizations, was
a chance for supervisors to see how the FAS works.
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