Article Courtesy of The Naples Daily News
By Joseph Cranney
Published July 14, 2017
At the high-rise condos that dot the Naples skyline, the
threat of a deadly fire is real. Without proper fire prevention equipment, a
blaze could consume any of the buildings, some 50 years old, that are
symbols of the retirement lifestyle along Gulfshore Boulevard North.
At least, that’s the threat that Naples Fire Marshal Bob Rogers sees.
But some condo residents, concerned about
the cost of improving their buildings to meet fire safety
standards, say the threat of such a fire is more imagined.
No one can point to a major fire at a Naples condo tower in
recent memory, some residents note.
Still, it’s Rogers’ job to ensure Naples high-rises meet
national fire safety standards, adopted in Florida law,
requiring all condo towers taller than 75 feet to have
sprinkler systems throughout the building.
Rogers said the best systems include sprinkler heads in a
condo building's common areas, such as the lobby and gym, as
well as virtually every room of each livable unit.
“We’re in the business of safety,” Rogers said. “We want to
make sure that everyone in our community has the ability to
survive in an emergency.”
The law allows condo associations to opt out of installing full sprinkler
systems in their buildings. But they must install an alternative safety
system, designed by a fire protection engineer, that provides other safety
devices, such as additional smoke alarms or some sprinklers in common areas
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have eased fire safety
requirements for the state’s condos, including a provision that would have
allowed condo associations to also opt out of the alternative engineered
safety systems. The measure passed the Legislature with only one dissenting
In vetoing the bill, Scott referred to a June 14 fire in London.
“While I am particularly sensitive to regulations that increase the cost of
living, the recent London high-rise fire, which tragically took at least 79
lives, illustrates the importance of life safety protections,” Scott said.
The exact cost of retrofitting an old Naples condo with a full sprinkler
system is unclear. But for a condo tower of 20 livable floors, with a
half-dozen units per floor, even a conservative estimate of a few thousand
dollars per unit would put the overall cost in the hundreds of thousands of
Still, Naples Fire Chief Pete DiMaria said cost of the sprinklers are
“The governor, by vetoing that (exemption legislation), has given us a
little more authority to convince these associations that it’s money well
spent,” DiMaria said.
There are about a dozen Naples condo towers without full sprinkler systems,
according to the fire department.
Since Rogers took over as fire marshal in 2014, none of the condo
associations have agreed to retrofit their buildings with full systems.
These are old buildings, mostly built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, near
Doctors Pass. The law required newer condo towers along Gulfshore Boulevard
to have full sprinkler systems installed when they were built.
Eight of the condo groups have submitted their alternative engineering fire
safety plans to the fire department.
The department already has approved four of those plans and is reviewing
three others, Rogers said, without discussing details of which associations
are further along than others.
One condo building, Gulfside, has completed its improvements, approved by
the fire department. The improvements include a single sprinkler head in
each living unit, near the front door.
“That is one of the requirements that we feel strongly about,” Rogers said.
“If there’s a fire in that unit, that head is strong enough to keep it from
going to the door.”
Another condo association, The Embassy Club, doesn’t have any sprinklers in
its building and hasn’t submitted a fire safety plan to the city.
The Embassy Club residents, who in 2013 voted to opt out of installing a
full sprinkler system in their building, were hoping state legislation
easing code requirements would pass, said Therese Wagner, the group's
“We don’t have an option now, so we’ll have to do something,” Wagner said.