After 85 people died as a result of the MGM Grand fire in November 1980 and eight perished in an arson less than three months later at the Las Vegas Hilton, Nevada lawmakers revamped high-rise safety codes.
The fires snuffed out any serious opposition to implementing the toughest fire-safety regulation reforms in the country — changes Clark County officials say have made Las Vegas Strip resorts among the safest anywhere.
Since then, there hasn’t been a fire-related death at any Strip resort, said Ron Lynn, director of the Clark County Building Department.
“These buildings are rigorously developed and built,” Lynn said. “We have the safest large structures in the world.”
A Jan. 25, 2008, fire at the Monte Carlo was a testament to the changes.
After welders sparked a fire on the roof about 11 a.m., some 5,000 guests and 1,000 employees were evacuated. Seventeen people were treated for smoke inhalation, but there were no serious injuries. The fire was put out at 12:15 p.m., and the resort reopened in three weeks.
Following are some key differences between the MGM Grand and the Monte Carlo fires:
• Sprinklers — In the MGM Grand fire, reports noted that if $192,000 more had been spent for sprinklers in more areas of the hotel, the tragedy could have been prevented.
There were no sprinklers in The Deli, where the fire started, because the restaurant originally was supposed to be manned 24 hours. The thought at the time was somebody would quickly notice any fire and either put it out or call firefighters.
After the MGM Grand and Hilton fires, Nevada instituted a retrofit law requiring older hotels to install sprinkler systems.
At the Monte Carlo, the entire casino and high-rise hotel were covered by sprinkler systems, Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Girard Page said.
• Automatic alarms — In the MGM Grand fire, there was a manual alarm with bells and a public address system designed to be sounded from the security office. There were also six or more pull-type alarms on each floor of the hotel.
However, no alarm was manually sounded in the hotel towers during the MGM Grand fire.
According to investigators, an operator announced twice over the PA system to evacuate the casino. But in the confusion, guests in the hotel weren’t notified.
In contrast, an alarm automatically triggered on the floor of the Monte Carlo where the fire broke out, as well as on the floors above and below. Hotel personnel triggered additional alarms.
While strobe lights flashed — some guests in the MGM Grand fire were deaf and would not have heard an alarm — and a klaxon sounded, a voice came over emergency loudspeakers, giving guests specific directions on how to safely get out.
• Room-by-room alerts — When the Monte Carlo caught fire, management had prepared with rehearsed drills on how to alert and evacuate guests.
The hotel manager immediately scrambled 200 security guards and engineers to go to each of the 3,002 hotel rooms, according to a fire report. They knocked on doors and entered if there was no response to make sure the rooms were cleared.
Firefighters also combed through the building. All guests were out of the building by 11:42 a.m.
• Pressurized elevator shafts and stairways — In the MGM Grand fire, smoke from the casino worked its way up through the elevator shafts and stairwells, which acted as a chimney, into the hotel. Many people died from smoke inhalation.
Changes made since then require elevators and stairways to be pressurized to keep smoke out and give people a clear escape route.
The former MGM Grand — now Bally’s — was reconfigured with smoke barriers to prevent smoke from penetrating the building floor by floor or through openings such as laundry shafts, elevators and stairways, Lynn said. Modern systems confine and control smoke and use exhaust fans to vent it outside, he said.
Safety codes also require protective slabs between balconies to keep fire from jumping from one balcony to another, and guest room doors must be rated to hold back a fire for 45 minutes.
• Communications — During the MGM fire, radio and communications technology did not meet modern standards. With limited emergency radio channels and so much traffic, firefighters found it difficult to communicate with one another. Many found themselves cut off.
Modern systems make communication more sure, and there is improved coordination and more detailed command structures.