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Callers Share Memories Of The MGM Fire

For more firsthand accounts of the MGM fire, listen to KNPR's award-winning series, The Las Vegas I Remember.

On November 21st, 1980, a fire broke out in a deli at the old MGM Grand Hotel. The fire killed 87 people, making it the worst disaster in Nevada history. On today's program remembering the event, we received calls from emergency workers and others with vivid recollections of the fire:

I worked in the local emergency room and I was working that day. I was a secretary - my job was to get silly information when people are seriously injured. A lady came in by ambulance – just hysterical, just sobbing and crying and I was trying to console her and she kept saying, “My sister, my sister, oh, my sister.” And I said “Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s just in another ambulance, she’ll be coming.” And she says to me, “You don’t understand - she jumped.”

- Mary, Las Vegas

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I was an operator taking calls at Centel telephone company – it was called that at the time. We weren’t really told anything. The only thing we were told as operators was that there was a fire, and we would be getting phone calls and to tell people to wet sheets and towels and put them under the door and just wait, someone will find you. And that’s all we were told ... Some people weren’t frantic on the phone, they were just wondering what to do. But other people would scream on the phone and all you could tell them – because we had no information – all you could tell them is just wet stuff, put it under the door and just wait.

- Carrie, Elko

My story is that I was a teacher at Brinley junior high. I was 26-years-old and somebody told me that the MGM was on fire and I realized my dad who worked there was vulnerable, and sure enough his story actually is in the paper today – there’s a big picture I’m looking at. My dad was an assistant pastry chef there. When the smoke was coming in, he and two other guys made their way to the walk-in refrigerator. One of the guys actually fell down and had a heart attack and died before they made it to the fridge ... I rushed out of school and to my parents house, he was home by then. He wrote a note on a pie cardboard to all of us, in case he didn’t make it, we’d still have that.

- Nancy, Las Vegas

I was at UMC, I was doing nurses training. I was in the lounge at the time because we were on break and it was my birthday. They were singing happy birthday to me. And somebody came in and said MGM is on fire and everybody ran up to the roof of the UMC hospital. You could see billowing smoke coming out. It was a beautiful day. But billowing smoke coming out of the MGM, black smoke and helicopters were starting to hover around. It was really awesome looking. Awful.

They started bringing patients in that were sent from the emergency room of UMC, and I was working in labor and delivery in the OB section. They were starting to put patients all over the hospital just for observation, mostly for smoke inhalation so we saw a lot of patients with soot around their noses and mouths, and we were putting gurneys in the hallway, and we had men in the labor department, which was very unusual to see. So it was a day that was very crowded with people and they were all very scared, but happy to be alive.

- Chloe, Las Vegas

Steve Smith, retired Clark County Fire Fighter
Donn Jersey, Publisher of Online Media Las Vegas Sun
Dave Palermo, retired reporter


Friday, November 23, 2012

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