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USATODAY.com - Better fire safety in hotels saves lives

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For European hotels with sprinklers, check www.eurosprinkler.org.

Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, gave further impetus to move toward tighter fire-safety requirements, Solomon says.

Ask the desk clerk what the fire alarm sounds like. Ask for a room with a flashing alarm if you are deaf.

Locate exits and stairways. Count the number of doors between them and your room. Locate fire alarms.

If the door knob is hot, keep the door shut and place damp towels into the cracks around it. Open a window and turn on the bathroom vent if smoke enters the room.

Escape by stairs, not an elevator. If you must escape through smoke, get low.

Among the actions that have had an effect:

  • A 1981 Nevada law mandated sprinkler systems in

hotels and other buildings taller than 55 feet. Three years later, says Clark County Fire Department spokesman Bob Leinbach, another state law required sprinklers in new hotels more than two stories. More than $200 million was spent to retrofit Las Vegas and other county hotels, he says.

  • A 1983 Florida law mandated sprinkler systems in all

rooms and public areas of new and existing hotels taller than two stories that have interior hallways. Hotels and motels in the state pushed for the law after Las Vegas saw a decline in tourism after the MGM Grand fire. More than $60 million was spent to retrofit existing hotels, estimates Buddy Dewar, a former Florida state fire official.

  • A 1990 federal law prohibits government employees traveling in the USA on business from

staying in any hotel taller than three stories that lacks sprinklers, which has given hotels incentive to upgrade.

Most major U.S. cities' safety codes now require sprinklers in newly built hotels and motels.

Generally, says Dewar, who now works for a trade group, the National Fire Sprinkler Association, hotels and motels have no sprinklers if they are less than three stories tall and are more than 10 years old. Hotels and motels three- to seven-stories tall are often without sprinklers if the room doors open to an open-air walkway, he says.

The NFPA says the last fire with at least five fatalities occurred at a Comfort Inn in Greenville, S.C., in January 2004. Six people were killed and six others critically injured in the blaze at the five-story hotel, which was built in 1988 and wasn't required to have sprinklers.

Before that, seven years had passed without a hotel fire with as many as five fatalities. In 1997, an arsonist set a fire in an area without sprinklers at the Hacienda Plaza Inn in Thornton, Colo., killing five.

USA TODAY analyzed media accounts of fires that broke out in 63 U.S. hotels during the first 10 months of 2005. At least one person died in 15 of the fires. The most fatalities in a single fire were three.

Marriott leader among chains

Solomon and other fire-safety experts point to Marriott International as the industry leader advocating sprinkler systems. The company's fire-safety expert, Sonny Scarf, says all Marriott hotels in the USA, except up to 10% of Residence Inns, have sprinkler systems in rooms and other areas. About 50 hotels abroad that were acquired by Marriott do not have sprinklers but will be retrofitted, he says.

Ritz-Carlton and Hilton say all their hotels worldwide have sprinklers in rooms and other areas. All of Omni's hotels except the Royal Orleans in New Orleans have them, says spokeswoman Christine Connelly. The New Orleans hotel meets the local fire code without sprinklers but is considering putting them in, she says.

Le Méridien's new hotels and some older ones have sprinklers in rooms and other areas, says security director David Purkiss. "Some hotels, particularly the smaller hotels in Africa, are not currently fitted with sprinkler systems."

Several chains say all their hotels meet local fire standards but did not offer specifics about sprinklers. Some say they don't have such information, because many of their hotels are franchises.



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