MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — How safe are Minnesota high-rise buildings in a fire?

Right now, there are more than 40 buildings without sprinkler systems. The Minnesota State Fire Marshall hopes a bill at the legislature will change that.

The horrifying Cedar High Apartment fire in Minneapolis that left five dead isn’t just a memory for Abdi Mohamed. It’s a living nightmare.

“Whenever I pass by my late mom’s building or remember her, it always brings me to tears,” Mohamed said.

His 67-year-old mother was one of five who died in the fire.

“I hope my mother and others don’t die in vain,” he said.

Tom Brace served as Minnesota’s State Fire Marshall for nearly 20 years. He says lives would have been saved if sprinklers were on site.

“We think that one [sprinkler] head would have put the fire out in a 400-square-foot unit,” Brace said.

The Cedar High Apartments in the aftermath of the deadly fire (credit: CBS)

Brace and current State Fire Marshall Jim Smith testified for a bill that would require sprinklers in all Minnesota high rises by 2032. Smith testified that apart from Minneapolis, a number of cities — including Rochester, Mankato and Duluth — have high-rise buildings without sprinklers. Duluth alone has 13.

“This is a state-wide problem,” Fire Marshal Smith said. “We have identified at least 42 buildings throughout the state of Minnesota that are 75 feet or taller that do not have sprinkler systems.”

READ MORE: MPHA: Need For Sprinklers Cited Months Before Deadly Cedar High Apartments Fire

One concern is the cost. Previous retrofitting in St. Paul has cost just over $1 million per building — but that amount can soar.

“You have to be a little careful with cost figures because if you run into asbestos, you have to remove the asbestos,” Brace said.

The proposal to retrofit all Minnesota high rises continues to move quickly through House committees. But its future in the Republican-controlled Senate is a lot less clear.

The bill’s author in the Senate, Sen. Kari Dziedzic, has asked for a hearing on the legislation, but has not yet gotten one at the Capitol.

Under state law, all high-rise buildings built after 1979 are required to have sprinkler systems. Those built before 1979 are grandfathered in.

Esme Murphy

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