Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2014

MGM fire changed safety standards

The 1980 MGM Grand fire altered safety standards in both Nevada and across the nation.

Officially the fire at the 26-story Strip resort, built in 1972, took 87 lives, nine of them Las Vegas residents.

In the wake of the MGM fire, Nevada became one of the first states to enact what remain some of the world’s toughest safety standards for public buildings and high rises.

Before the Nov. 21, 1980 MGM fire, the worst was at Atlanta’s Winecoff Hotel, which took 119 lives on Dec. 7, 1946. At the time, Nevada had no requirements for sprinklers or other safety measures for high-rise buildings.

After the MGM fire, then-Gov. Robert List formed a blue-ribbon panel of fire prevention experts, building inspectors and government representatives to strengthen safety regulations in resorts statewide.

While some progress had been made by the panel in the first weeks following the MGM fire, the Feb. 10, 1981, arson blaze at the Las Vegas Hilton killed eight people and drove the point home that immediate change in safety standards was necessary.

Philip Cline, a 23-year-old Hilton busboy, was convicted of setting the Hilton fire. He is serving eight life terms without parole plus 15 years for arson.

Since then, there has not been a fire death in a high-rise building in Las Vegas.

A report prepared for the Clark County manager after the MGM fire named 11 other hotels as lacking sprinklers, including the Flamingo Hilton, Desert Inn and Riviera.

Five months after the MGM burned, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill mandating sprinkler systems in all hotels, motels, office buildings and apartments higher than 55 feet and requiring sprinklers in showrooms and other public gathering places of more than 15,000 square feet.

Former Deputy County Fire Chief John Pappgeorge, who served on the state Board of Fire Safety at the time of the MGM fire, said that after the regulations were approved, about 30,000 building owners around the state retrofitted their systems.

In 1980 there were no smoke detectors in any MGM rooms. Today every room of every hotel has one or more smoke detectors depending on size.

The MGM along with other hotels had shared-air supply vents that funneled toxic fumes into rooms, killing people as they slept the morning of the fire. Today the vents operate independently, blocking fumes.

The resorts then did not have fire control rooms. Every major public building has such rooms with computers that can pinpoint the origin of fires and vent smoke out of areas to help firefighters.

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