Lessons from the past: MGM Grand Hotel Fire

Today, November 21, is the 36th anniversary of the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas. The fire was first reported at 7:05 a.m. on November 21, 1980 and within 6 minutes of the time the fire was discovery, the entire casino area was involved in the fire with a burning rate of 15 to 19 feet per second. This catastrophic fire resulted in over 600 injuries and 85 deaths including hotel guests and employees. This was the second largest life-loss hotel fire in United States history and highlighted the importance of needing fire prevention and life safety.

The MGM Grand Hotel fire was a direct result of the hotels failure in prevention. During the construction of the $106 million hotel the owner decided against the fire marshals request to install fire sprinkles throughout the building. This allowed fire protection and life safety to take a backseat to the owner’s concern of saving $192,000 (less than 1% of the hotel cost). This resulted in the hotel only having partial sprinkler protection for limited areas on the ground level and no sprinklers installed in the high-rise hotel, the casino (approximately 380 by 1200 feet, or 450,000 square feet), or the restaurant areas.

The fire was caused by an electrical ground fault inside the wall of the restaurant known as “The Deli” and the spread at a rapid pace with heavy smoke into the casino area. While the fire primarily damaged the ground floor casino and adjacent restaurants, most of the deaths were caused by smoke inhalation on the upper floors of the hotel. Impaired smoke dampers and other HVAC components, openings in the vertical shafts, stairways, elevators, and the seismic joints allowed the toxic smoke to spread throughout the building all the way to the top floor. This fire resulted in 1,327 lawsuits against 118 companies with MGM’s settlement being the largest with $105 million. This does not include the $300 million reconstruction cost, and the hundreds of millions of dollars of downtime, business, and tourist interruptions.

In conclusion, billions of dollars were lost, over 600 injuries, and 85 people dead as a direct result of a poor decision to save $192,000 by not installing fire sprinkler protection. They also found 83 building code violation, design flaws, installation errors and materials that were identified after investigation that contributed to the magnitude of the fire and smoke spread. The majority of this damage and deaths could have been avoided with proper preventative maintenance and David Demers, NFPA Fire Investigation Manager, concluded that ‘with sprinklers, it would have been a one or two sprinkler fire, and we would have never heard about it.’ This tragic event emphasizes the importance of fire prevention and has resulted in an increased focus to improving fire prevention and life safety.

Fire prevention and electrical safety both have a direct impact on not only the building but the safety of everyone in or near the building and our firefighter’s safety. You will always have the risk of fires but with the proper protection, these fires and electrical failures can be contained and extinguished with minimized property losses and fire fatalities. Transworld, Inc. Electrical Contractors believes in the importance of preventative maintenance and protection. Every day we see the direct impact that preventative maintenance and fire/electrical protection has and that is why we offer an electrical safety analysis and customizable preventative maintenance programs that are designed to protect your assets and improve life safety. If you are interested in learning more about implementing a preventative maintenance program, our professional electricians and staff would be glad to share electrical and fire safety advice.

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