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USATODAY.com - Better fire safety in hotels saves lives

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fire the nation had seen since an Atlanta blaze in 1946. It spawned a legacy of tighter fire regulations and broader deployment of water sprinklers in hotel rooms and common areas.

Newspaper Classifieds

Deadliest U.S. hotel fires

Partly because automatic

since 1900

sprinklers are dousing or limiting

Year Deaths











H o t e l , l o c a t i o n

Winecoff Hotel, Atlanta

Dupont Plaza Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

MGM Grand, Las Vegas

LaSalle Hotel, Chicago

Gulf Hotel,


Source: National Fire Protection

the spread of fires before they

become killers, the deadliest hotel fire in the USA since 1997 has been in single digits — six deaths. It was in a hotel without sprinklers.

Robert Solomon of the non-profit National Fire Protection Association welcomes the progress but says governments need to continue tightening regulations to further reduce losses. "A lot more has to be

done," says Solomon.

Association Among other things, local

governments need to promote greater use of sprinklers by eliminating exemptions for hotels and motels that were built before tougher codes were instituted, he says. Building owners have traditionally resisted retrofitting older buildings with such systems because of the cost.

But safety experts say universal installation of sprinkler systems could save more lives.

Kevin Maher of the trade group American Hotel & Lodging Association says hotels have made "tremendous strides" by installing sprinklers and fire alarms and taking other steps to improve fire safety. He says his group, which represents about 8,400 U.S. hotels, doesn't support installation of sprinklers at every hotel property. Each local government should make its own decision about the matter, he says.

U.S. fires declining annually

"Is this smell-a-vision?" Julie Keigley of San Anselmo, Calif., recalls thinking when she smelled smoke last month as she ascended in an elevator at the New York Hilton while watching a CNN report about a California fire. After the elevator opened to a smoky 33rd floor, she took the elevator down to the lobby and called out: "Fire!"

Keigley was uninjured in what was likely one of several hotel fires that day. Government and fire-safety officials estimate that 4,000 hotel and motel fires — more than 10 every day — are reported each year to U.S. fire departments. Hotel fires are the second-most-common type of residential fire behind households. Cooking, smoking, appliances and arson top the list of causes.

Tips for guests on hotel fire safety

Before checking in, Roy Marshall asks if a high-rise hotel has automatic sprinklers. "If they don't, I don't stay there," says Marshall, former Iowa fire marshal and now director of a public interest group promoting fire safety in homes.

Some advice from experts on fire safety in hotels:

The number of yearly fires reported to local authorities has steadily declined, falling by two-thirds since the fire at the 26-story MGM Grand. The landmark Las Vegas fire began when a poorly installed electrical system malfunctioned in a wall of one of the hotel's restaurants. The restaurant and most other areas had no sprinklers.

Fire spread through the casino, sending smoke through the heating and air conditioning system and causing elevators to fall. Only about 5% of the hotel, which is now Bally's, burned. Nearly all who were killed died of smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.

Book a lower-floor room equipped with sprinklers. Many such hotels are listed at www.usfa.fema.gov/hotel.

Safety experts credit the drop in the number of fires to tougher local codes, hotel improvements and federal government legislation after the Las Vegas fire. A 1986 fire that killed 97 on New Year's Eve at the Dupont



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