Berke on Safety: Where There’s Smoke... There Should Have Been a Safety Review

Sept. 25, 2008
A fire this January at a Las Vegas hotel, the Monte Carlo, should have spurred other hotels in the city to review their fire-safety provisions.

Edited by Jessica Shapiro

But I noted a number of fire-safety problems while staying at a well-known hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas recently. On the 10th floor of my hotel, for example, an exit sign was not lit, which would render it nearly invisible in a smoke-filled corridor. Some fire doors, which automatically close when the fire alarm is activated, lacked exit signs entirely. And other signs were on the far side of the doors. They would be hidden from evacuees’ view as soon as the alarm sounded.

Several exit signs appeared to point toward the elevators. Of course, elevators cannot be used for fire evacuations, a fact that was posted above the elevator call button. Adding to the confusion, there were two exit signs directly over one another near the elevators. The one near the ceiling pointed away from the elevator, while the one about 18 in. above the floor pointed both toward the elevator and away from it.

In some cases, the way to an exit stairway was not obvious, but there were no exit signs to guide evacuees. Doors that could be mistaken for stairway exits were not marked “Not An Exit.” Stairway marking is especially important in buildings where the layout puts stairways in nonintuitive locations.

In addition to these more-permanent problems, construction workers had left plastic sheeting on the floor after their shift. Extraneous materials like this are fire hazards and would severely add to the fuel load if a fire were to break out.

These observations were for just one floor in one of the hotel towers during a 10-min walk-through. (Check out the online version of this article at for pictures of these lapses.) If a fire were to break out, excess fuel and ambiguous exit instructions could easily result in deaths and serious injuries.

Many hotels, workplaces, dwellings, and public buildings have implemented local fire-safety codes and the Life Safety Code established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). But they represent the bare minimum in fire-safety precautions. Building managers in Las Vegas and elsewhere should assemble a safety-inspection checklist, a good first step toward ensuring occupant safety.

In the meantime, occupants would be well advised to check out escape paths and possible hazards before an emergency occurs. An establishment’s good name doesn’t always translate into good safety practices.

Lanny Berke is a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at [email protected].

Confusing, poorly lit, and obscured exit signs were among the many fire-safety problems in a high-end Las Vegas Strip hotel. Here, exit signs contradicted each other. The lower sign appears to indicate that the elevator on the right, which is offlimits for fire evacuation, is a possible escape route.

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