Pittsburgh City Council is expected to vote on legislation Tuesday that would require building owners to install sprinkler systems in all high rise buildings 75 feet or taller. Since the 1980s, all new high rises in the city have been required to have sprinklers, though it's unclear how many older buildings are without them.
Tim McNulty, the city's communications director, said this legislation is a no-brainer.
"It's a public safety issue," McNulty said. "It's proven that when sprinklers are in high rises it saves lives."
The measure was prompted in part by last year's fire in Midtown Towers, an apartment building Downtown. A 75-year-old woman died, and the century-old building did not have sprinklers.
McNulty said there's been some pushback from building owners on the legislation because they say renovating older buildings would be too expensive. This sentiment was shared by John Petrack, executive vice president of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.
"Safety obviously is always a concern, especially in high rise buildings," Petrack said. "The one problem that's inherent to it is to retrofit existing buildings is exorbitant and cost prohibitive."
Petrack said some apartment buildings might offset costs onto renters. If the measure passes, owners of older high rises would have 12 years to put in sprinklers.
McNulty said Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones worked with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) to make the legislation as fair as possible to building owners. In a statement, BOMA's Executive Director Mike Embrescia said the Association has full faith and confidence in Jones.
"BOMA is confident that Chief Jones and his team will pursue the appropriate local and state policies to ensure the safety of our community," he wrote.