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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 is pissed."

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 similar systems.

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.


Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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