downtown los angeles

Tweaking the Antiquated LAFD “Helipad Fire Code” Could Alter Downtown LA Skyline

Could LA's current stumpy skyline evolve in the future to resemble this aerial view overlooking the stunning Shanghai skyline shows the beautiful pinnacle of the Jin Mao skyscraper? (Photo: Spreng Ben)

Could LA’s current stumpy skyline evolve in the future to resemble this stunning aerial view overlooking the Shanghai skyline with the beautiful pinnacle of the Jin Mao skyscraper? (Photo: Spreng Ben)

Some awesome news coming out of LA Councilman Jose Huizar’s office regarding the egregiously outdated and totally unnecessary “helipad fire code” that the LA Fire Department instituted back in 1958, which forced all subsequent high-rise structures built in the City of Los Angeles to have helipads for “potential evacuation.” This has led to our signature stumpy skyline, which could be a lot more visually stunning and architecturally interesting if spire rooftops were allowed. Imagine if our City Hall had a plain flat rooftop how boring that would be?

Your guess is as good as mine why the LAFD has been so illogically stubborn to refine this antiquated fire code when we’re literally the only city in this entire fucking country to have such a restrictive law. Like our ridiculous enforcement of jaywalking in Downtown LA, the LAFD has been extremely backward about this, but thank goodness things seem to be progressing and actually moving forward on some welcome changes.

Kudos to Huizar who has been in talks with the LAFD and is currently working with them, along with other industry specialists, to alter the helipad code in an addendum of sorts called Policy No. 10.

A statement from Huizar’s office says the new policy would allow modified helipads on the roofs of new high-rise buildings. The policy shift is just the first step, albeit an important one, in allowing newly designed towers with “iconic rooflines and narrow roof and tower spires” common in other major urban centers. Think New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

The first concrete example this new policy shift has had a very positive effect on, aesthetically speaking, is the forthcoming $1 billion Wilshire Grand Tower now under construction at 7th and Figueroa. The 1,100 foot tower when completed in early 2017, will have a slender spire on top of the roof and a stunning crown feature, both of which were only made possible because of a reduced helipad requirement.

A new exciting skyline awaits the future of Downtown LA.

As a result of a recent policy shift in the outdated LAFD fire code, the new Wilshire Grand Tower will be allowed to have a spire and reduced helipad structure (Photo: AC Martin)

As a result of a recent policy shift in the outdated LAFD fire code, the new Wilshire Grand Tower will be allowed to have a spire and reduced helipad structure (Photo: AC Martin)

12 Comments

  1. keaswaran says

    I do appreciate the aesthetics of interesting rooftops on skyscrapers, but wouldn’t that be possible with an off-center spire, or something else that allows room for a helipad? The presence of all these helipads is also likely to turn into a major advantage of Los Angeles over other cities, if we want to attract drone manufacturers, shippers, and other businesses that would like to have easy take-off and landing sites already in every important building.

  2. sebastian says

    There are many ways to have a spiral top and a helipad at the same time. The Wilshire grand also has a helipad.

  3. Larry says

    There’s no doubt in my mind if you’re atop a burning high-rise,you’ll be demanding an LAFD helicopter come rescue you. But under your desires, you’ll burn. Too bad.

    • Lawrence says

      @Larry – The helipads would remain, but with these revisions, they’ll be able to better integrate into highrises with contemporary design elements that may include spires or other features. Also – my understanding is that the actual usefulness of these helipads is questionable. When the smoke from a highrise fire travels upward, visibility for emergency helicopters is severely compromised making it difficult if not impossible for them to even land on the roof of these buildings, which completely defeats the purpose of even having them.

  4. Jimmy says

    It would be interesting to see how many people have actually been saved by a helipad in LA.

    • wildstar says

      Or anywhere else in the developed world, for that matter.

  5. larry says

    LAFD pilots are not afraid of smoke, as they deal with it frequently at brush fires. As for the spires, they are certainly a problem if the pilot needs to approach the landing from a certain direction due to wind direction but the spire is in the way.

    The helicopters not only rescue people, but allow firefighters to quickly reach the upper floors of a burning bulding.

    • Lawrence says

      @Larry – Dropping water on a brush fire from thousands of feet above and trying to land on a burning building with smoke billowing above to are two very different things. One operation is requires more sophistication and coordination than the other. On 9/11, rescue helicopters couldn’t land on the twin towers because of the low visibility caused by the smoke.

      This updated code also requires that buildings have even more advanced internal fire safety systems in place. It’s not as if reducing the helipad requirement somehow compromises all matters of fire safety in L.A.s highrises.

  6. Larry says

    helicopters couldn’t land at the twin towers for the reasons we’re talking about here…there were radio towers. And LAFD pilots don’t drop water from thousands of feet. And what advanced internal fire safety systems are you referring too? Stop blowing smoke….pun not intended.

  7. ethan says

    the wilshire grands elevator core will be very thick (thats on of the fire improvements

  8. Larry says

    All elevator and stairwell shafts are two hour fire resistance rated. But they remain unsafe for use during a serious fire because smoke passes into them. So called “thick” elevator walls might stop a fire but without smoke control systems and other features to prevent an elevator cab from stopping at a floor on fire they are extremely dangerous.

    The bottom line here is the helicopter pads are needed for firefighting and rescue. Those who don’t understand firefighting or helicopter operations should stop saying they’re not needed and unwanted just because you want the building to look pretty. It is reality check time!

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