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MGM HOTEL NFPA REPORT SUMMARY

 

NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION

PRELIMINARY REPORT

MGM Grand Hotel Fire

Las Vegas, Nevada

November 21, 1980

On the morning of November 21, 1980, 84 people died and 679 were injured as a result of a fire at the MGM

Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was the second largest life-loss hotel fire in United States history.

In conjunction with the Clark County Fire Department, a cooperative investigative effort is in progress by the

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), and the National Bureau of

Standards (NBS). This effort is being conducted under the NFPA/USFA/NBS Major Fires Investigation Agreement.

This agreement, funded by all three organizations, provides for the investigation of technically significant fires by the

NFPA Fire Investigations Department to document and analyze incident details and report lessons learned for loss

prevention purposes. Due to the extensive nature of the MGM incident, all three groups had personnel on site; NFPA

is responsible for data compilation, analysis, and final report preparation.

In addition, a human behavior study of hotel occupants is being conducted by NFPA in cooperation with the

Clark County Fire Department, U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and

Health. It is expected that results of both studies will be available by June, 1981.

BACKGROUND

The MGM Grand Hotel was located on the southeast corner of the intersection of East Flamingo and Las Vegas

Boulevards. The 26-story building was constructed during 1972 and 1973 and opened in December of 1973. Like most

of the large hotels on the “Strip”, this building was located in Clark County.

The building consisted of a very large ground floor area that contained the Casino, restaurants, showrooms, a

convention center, and the upper level of a jai alai fronton. (See attached diagrams.) The below grade level (Arcade

level), which had approximate outside dimensions the same as the Casino level, contained the lower level of the jai alai

fronton, a movie theatre, a large number of shops and boutiques, service areas, and underground parking. The

number of shops and boutiques, service areas, and underground parking. The Casino and Arcade levels communicated

directly via an open stair. The gross dimensions of the Casino and Arcade levels were 380 feet by 1200 feet.

The Casino itself was approximately 150 feet by 400 feet. The hotel consisting of three wings was built on top of the

Casino and Arcade levels. Each wing was approximately 320 feet long and 70 feet wide.

The T-shape tower contained 2076 guest rooms. Seven hundred eighty additional guest rooms were under construction

on the west side of the existing building. On the morning of November 21, 1980, there were at least 5000

guests, staff, and other people in the building.

The building was of mixed construction. The construction types included fire-resistive, protected noncombustible,

and unprotected non-combustible. The interior finish varied significantly and included both combustible

and non-combustible materials.

The buliding complex was partially sprinklered. Protected areas included the Arcade level, major portions of the

Casino level, and part of the 26th floor. Protected areas on the Casino level included convention areas, showrooms,

and some restaurants. The large gambling Casino and the high-rise tower were not sprinklered.

Means of egress from the Casino level was either through doors directly to grade or down a stairway to grade. The

means of egress system for the high-rise tower consisted of one interior stair and one smokeproof tower for each of the

three wings for a total of six stairs. All of the stairs discharged to the outside of the building. At the bottom of most of

the stairs, horizontal passages were used to reach the outside. All three of the interior stairs and one of the smokeproof

towers were not enclosed with two-hour fire rated construction. Due to locked doors, once the people entered stair

enclosures, they could not gain access to other floors.

A manual fire alarm system with bells and public address capability was provided in the building. There did not

appear to be manual pull stations on the Arcade or Casino levels; however, the system could be activated from the

security office on the Casino level. Manual pull stations were located throughout the guest room floors. The system

was arranged to sound a pre-signal and then a general alarm in five minutes after activation of a manual pull station.

The system was a local signalling system only. Other than automatic sprinklers, there were no automatic detection

devices in the building.

There were four major subsystems for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Heated or

cooled air was supplied through ducts for the Arcade and Casino levels. Return was through air transfer grills and the

lighting system to a large return air plenum above the ceiling. The return air plenum for almost the entire Casino level

was through one undivided area.

The second subsystem provided conditioned air from a mechanical penthouse on the roof to the central core and

three wings of the high-rise. This penthouse also contained the elevator machinery for one bank of elevators. There

was no return air from the guest room corridors. The third subsystem included guest rooms equipped with individual

fan coil units. These had chilled water piped to them. Make-up air was provided from the corridor for these units. The

fourth subsystem was provided for toilet exhaust. The toilet exhaust system serviced the Casino level and guest room

toilets in the tower.

In the high-rise portion of the building, there were two “seismic joints” that went from the area above the ceiling

of the Casino to the return air plenum above the 26th floor. These were shafts, approximately one foot wide, that

isolated the east and west wings of the biulding from the south wing. The bottoms of these seismic joints were not

enclosed and communicated directly with the return air plenum above the Casino ceiling. Where the corridors crossed

these seismic joints on each level, there were flexible non-fire rated “accordian fold” stainless steel panels in the walls

of the corridor that went from the floor to the ceiling.

INCIDENT

At approximately 7: 10 a.m. on November 21, 1980, an employee discovered a fire in a bus station in a restaurant

called the Deli at the east end of the Casino. The bus station was a waitress and bus boy service area. The Deli was not

open for business. The Casino and adjacent coffee house were in full operation. Security was contacted and an attempt

made to extinguish the fire using an occupant use hose; due to the magnitude of the fire, the attempt was unsuccessful.

The Clark County Fire Department was notified at about 7:15 a.m. There is no evidence that the building fire

alarm system sounded.

The Clark County Fire Department has determined that the most probable source of ignition of this fire was electrical

in nature. This occurred wthin a combustible concealed space adjacent to a pie case along the south wall of the

Deli.

The first materials ignited included plywood used to enclose the pie case. The fire most likely smoldered for a

period of time before breaking out of the concealed space and into the Deli bus station at approximately 7:lO a.m.

Initially smoke would have moved directly from the bus station to the return air plenum above the ceiling through

an air transfer grill. Once open flaming took place in the bus station, the fire apparently began spreading on

lightweight fuels such as plastic and paper products and combustible interior finish. The fire then spread to the remainder

of the Deli, consuming other available combustibles such as wooden decorative members and foam plastic

padding of chairs and booths.

Flashover of the bus station and then the Deli along with the lack of fire resistant barriers allowed the transfer of

thermal energy intp the Casino. Large amounts of air flowing through the adjacent coffee house and the Arcade provided

a fresh air supply for the fire. Present in the Casino were highly combustible furnishings and contents and combustible

interior finish. Large amounts of plastic materials such as foam padding and mouldings were included in the

fuels. The presence of fuel, air supply and a very large undivided area allowed for extremely rapid fire spread and

heavy smoke production. The entire Casino and Porte cocher* on the west end of the building were fully involved with

*A roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those

getting in and out of vehicles.

 

fire by 7:25 a.m. There were limited or nonexistent barriers to fire spread which allowed the spread of heat, smoke,

and other products of combustion to the building’s upper floors. These shafts included elevators, stairs, and shafts

located at seismic joints in the high-rise tower.

Tower occupants slowly became aware of the fire by smelling or seeing smoke, people yelling, or eventually due

to helicopters flying around the building. Some occupants were able to exit the building without assistance. Many were

rescued by fire fighters, construction workers, and passersby. Many other occupants made their way to the roof where

they were removed by helicopter. A large number of guests were trapped in their rooms where they awaited rescue.

Total evacuation of the building took nearly four hours.

Preliminary information as to the locations of victims in the hotel accounts for approximately 78 of the total 84

fatalities. Some casualties were removed from the upper levels of the building before their locations were documented.

Fourteen victims were on the Casino level and approximately 64 victims were on the upper floors of the hotel. Of the

64 victims above the Casino level, 29 were located in guest rooms, 21 were in corridors and elevator lobbies, five were

in elevators, and nine were in stair enclosures. Most victims were on the 20th through the 25th floors.

Three of the interior stairs were not enclosed with two-hour fire rated construction. There were direct openings

from the return air plenum above the Casino to these stairs. In addition there were non-rated access panels that allowed

fire and products of combustion to spread into these stairs. The spread of smoke into the stairs directly contributed

to several fatalities. At least one of the smokeproof towers was not enclosed on the bottom with adequate fire resistant

materials which allowed direct transmission of smoke from the casino area into the smokeproof tower. As far as can

be determined, the air handling equipment was not equipped with smoke detectors arranged to shut down the systems

upon sensing products of combustion. In addition some fire dampers were disabled so that they could not close when

the fusible links melted and others did not close completely. As a result, products of combustion were distributed

through the tower by the HVAC equipment.

The fan coil units in the guest rooms most likely contributed to the movement of products of combustion from

the corridors to the guest rooms. These fan units were not directly connected to any vertical air shaft and provided a

method for spread of smoke that may also have contributed to several fatalities.

Back to MGM Fire Case

 
 
 
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