Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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MGM Nixed Improved Sprinkler System in ‘73

The officials advised owners of the MGM Grand Hotel to install a comprehensive sprinkler system during construction, but they ignored the suggestion, claiming it was too expensive, the SUN learned Saturday.

The hotel, however, fully met fire codes when it was constructed in 1973, according to former county Fire Marshall Carl Lowe.

Lowe, now a county fire captain, said he told owners of the need for a full sprinkler system when construction began in 1972.

Owners chose instead to meet minimum requirements, installing sprinklers only in the basement, showrooms and a 26th floor high roller casino later converted to meeting rooms.

"All they wanted to know was what the code stated. A fireman can see a lot more than the average citizen. But with the builders, all they saw were dollar signs," Lowe said.

County fire officials say a comprehensive sprinkler system could have saved lives and reduced damage in Friday's fire that killed at least 83 employees and guests and devastated the glittering hotel-casino.

"The building code was a little outdated for that time in Las Vegas," he said. "I would have loved to have seen sprinklers" in the hotel.

Lowe said he resigned from the fire marshall post after two years in 1973, in part because of pressure from his bosses not to enforce fire regulations. Those bosses are no longer employed by the fire department, he said.

After having a showroom overcrowding ordinance passed, he said, the fire department refused to hire enough inspectors to enforce the law. "You can't fight city hall," the 23-year fire veteran said in blaming Strip hotel owners for pressuring the county commission into not enforcing the ordinance.

Low said he is proud of his work in enforcing regulations on the MGM during construction and felt particular pain when the resort was swept by fire.

"I was there at that fire. I felt so damn bad about it because at the time of construction, I was proud of the MGM. I knew that building was fire-resistant.

He said alterations since construction may have lessened the towering structure's fire safety. Furniture may have also contributed to quick spread of the blaze.

Lowe said he recommended complete sprinkling installations to builders of all major hotels.

"They don't want to put out the money," he said, adding, "Fire prevention is one of the hardest things in the world to teach people."