On February 25, 1987, the successful operation of
a smoke detector provided the early warning that mitigated
a potential multiple death fire in the La Posada Hotel
in McAllen, Texas. Though the fire caused approximately
$150,000 in damages, 155-160 occupants were evacuated
with only one serious injury. The fire was caused
by smoking in bed and sent heavy smoke throughout
most of the hotel. Key negative factors in the fire
included the lack of self-closing doors between guest
rooms and corridors, open stairwells, and the lack
of sprinklers and fire alarm systems. Key positive
factors included smoke detectors in each room, light
fire loading, fire resistive construction, and an
unusually high proportion of occupantsfamiliar with
The La Posada Hotel is a designated historic structure
registered with the State of Texas. The original structure
was built in 1918. In 1973, the building was struck
by lightning which caused a major fire that destroyed
the original structure with the exception of some
exterior walls. The rebuilt building is three stories
tall with 164 guest rooms plus meeting facilities.
(See Figure 1.)
McAllen currently uses both the Southern Standard
Building Code and the full set of National Fire Codes.
Based upon the time frame for construction provided
by Fire Department sources, the building probably
was constructed to the 1973 Southern Standard Building
NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, may have been applied.
Though NFPA 101 contains provisions for safety in
existing buildings, no retroactive enforcement program
had been established.
The building was completely reconstructed using non-combustible,
fire resistive construction. The structural frame
consists of concrete doubleteefloor assemblies and
masonry block walls. The overall fire protection classification
appears to be Type II, fire resistive. All guest rooms
are separated from other guest rooms, corridors, and
public areas by at least one-hour fire resistive construction
with the exception of corridor doors.Corridor doors
to guest rooms are panel-style wood doors, non-rated
and without closing devices. These doors are hung
in solid wood frames.
Exiting from the guest rooms was through interior
corridors or through an operable window in each room.
The building has four interior exit stairways all
of which are unenclosed or inadequately enclosed,
based upon the criteria for new and existing hotels
NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.
All interior wall surfaces are painted. Floors in
guest rooms and guest room access corridors are carpeted.
(See Figure 6.)
Fire Protection System and Equipment
The only fire protection equipment in the hotel consisted
of 2½ gallon pressurized water fire extinguishers,
1½ inch occupant use hosecabinets supplied
by domestic water only, and battery-powered single
station smoke detectors in guest rooms and storage
areas. The smoke detectors are General Electric SMK-6/M1.
They were located above the ceiling in the return
air plenum for the room. (See Figure 7.) This location
is not the recommended location according to NFPA
72E, standard on automatic fire detectors.
McAllen Fire Department operates six fire stations
with 111 personnel.
The Department operates six engines, one truck, one
rescue, and a crash-fire-rescue vehicle.