A change in how firefighters receive oxygen while battling fires in high-rise buildings could be approved today as part of an overhaul to The City's fire code.
Every new high-rise in San Francisco built after 2004 is required under local law to install air-refilling stations where firefighters can replenish their oxygen tanks. However, state law passed after 9/11 requires high-rises to install special pressurized elevators for fire and emergency personnel — which means oxygen tanks can be brought up to fires, making the refilling stations obsolete, according to advocates for The City's biggest buildings.
Property developers would be able to forgo installing the refilling stations in favor of the elevators if legislation sponsored by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor Mark Farrell is approved at the Board of Supervisors today. The change also is supported by the Fire Department and the Building Owners and Managers Association, which represents skyscraper owners.
Fifteen San Francisco buildings — including One Rincon Tower and the Fillmore Center, along with senior housing and other city-subsidized homes — have the air-refilling stations, according to records. They have never been put to use.
However, replacing the stations and making firefighters rely on new tanks delivered via elevator could increase the time needed to fight a fire, said retired Fire Marshal Ronny Coleman, who called eliminating the stations a "regression."
The fire code change comes at a time when The City is experiencing a construction boom and favors cost-cutting for developers at the expense of firefighter safety, say opponents of the legislation. Those opponents include RescueAir, the San Carlos company that maintains the stations in nine city buildings.
The requirement for the air-filling stations to be installed in tunnels 300 or more feet in length, such as upcoming passages built for the Central Subway, also would be dropped.
It's not clear how reliable the emergency elevators would be in an earthquake.