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The Cosmopolitan Fire: Lessons Learned From 35 Years Of Fire Safety

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The tragic MGM Grand fire in 1980 has stopped further tragedies by creating new fire restrictions around the Las Vegas Strip.

On July 25 of this year, smoke billowed from the Las Vegas Strip, and residents who were here on November 21, 1980 felt a familiar stirring.

A hotel was burning.

Inspectors were not able to find conclusive evidence of what caused the fire at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas pool on that day in July, but evidence points to cigarette butts dropped, perhaps, from one of the balconies above the pool area.

The fire resulted in damage, a couple of minor injuries, but no deaths.

Despite the familiar feeling, this was not like the MGM Grand fire in 1980, which killed 85 people, and destroyed one of the few areas on the Strip where locals often hung out.

Yet, these two fires are related. In many ways, the outcome of the Cosmopolitan fire was a direct result of the lessons learned from the MGM fire.

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Ron Lynn knows all about those lessons. He’s the director of Clark County’s Department of Building and Fire Prevention. In short, he’s the man in charge of the inspectors, and helping to make sure the codes are safe and logical.

Since the MGM fire, new codes and rules have been written for everything from electrical outlets and wiring to duct work. Many ducts have sprinklers in them now. And ducts are constructed so that smoke is routed to areas where people aren’t, and away from evacuation areas.

While outdoor furniture isn’t regulated by Lynn’s department, actually, it isn’t regulated at all, that was all that burned at the Cosmopolitan.

The fire was repelled from the one place where it had tried to enter the building. As the fire broke the sliding glass doors on a lanai near the pool, the sprinklers went off and extinguished it before it could get inside. A chair two feet from those glass doors was unsinged. It was wet, but untouched by fire.

Lynn says that Las Vegas did something most other cities didn’t do after the MGM fire. We not only changed the codes, we changed them retroactively.

All businesses more than 5,000 square feet had to retrofit, and there was plenty of backlash from business owners.

The Oasis Casino on top of the Dunes had to close because of the cost of the retrofit. Most other operations figured out how to bring their spaces up to code in the face of an unprecedented cohesiveness between fire inspectors and the political powers in the county and state.

While Las Vegas has the strictest fire rules in the country, Lynn warns that we can’t sit back and let the rules do the work for us.

“Everything man creates needs maintenance,” said Lynn, referring to the structures of buildings, and the furniture and fixtures inside them.

He said he has inspectors on the Strip every day, making sure that kitchen oven hoods are clean, that counters are fireproofed, that exit signs work properly.

The next generation of fire safety, he said, could be elevators.

Elevators with heat sensing ability will not stop at floors that are burning. The product has been tested, and Lynn sees promise in helping people with medical conditions, who cannot walk down 20 flights of stairs, get out safely. Still, he warns, this technology is not in place. So, for now, STAY OUT OF THE ELEVATORS, if there’s a fire.

From the archives: The Las Vegas I Remember: MGM Fire

Guests

Ron Lynn, director, Clark County’s Department of Building and Fire Prevention.

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