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Chris Jones

Hosting Shows, Fighting Fires

13 September 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday moved one step closer to becoming the first venue of its kind with an on-site fire station equipped to handle some of the worst crises imaginable.

By August 2008, the nation's third-largest convention center will likely house one of only a handful of U.S.-based CBRNE engines, Clark County Fire Department leaders said Tuesday.

In addition to performing standard firefighting tasks, the $450,000 vehicles and their crews are equipped to deal with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive-related incidents.

The proposed Station 33 -- which is still subject to Clark County Commission approval next month -- would also put a special bomb response unit known as "ARMOR" just moments away from most of the city's largest tourist attractions. Plans also call for a secondary command post and a traditional rescue/ambulance vehicle.

"Homeland security and security in general are really a part of customer service in the convention industry," said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter, who believes the presence of on-site emergency responders will make the center more attractive to organizers of some of the nation's largest trade shows.

At 13,000 square feet, the fire station will include a four-bay garage, briefing rooms and living quarters for six on-duty firefighters per shift. It will cost the county slightly more than $9 million to build, $2 million to equip, and approximately $2.9 million annually to staff.

The convention center and Strip resorts are now served by four separate fire stations that jointly handle more than 45,000 incidents per year, Clark Country Fire Chief Steven Smith told authority board members.

The addition of Station 33 should greatly reduce firefighters' response times within a corridor that now requires as much as nine minutes to reach certain addresses, Smith said. It will also ease firefighters' ability to make inspections near the Strip, where new construction is almost a constant.

"We will be the first fire station and police station on a (U.S.) convention center property. It demonstrates the convention authority's commitment to public safety," Smith said, referencing a separate 30,000-square-foot Metropolitan Police Department substation planned for the northwest corner of Swenson Street and Sierra Vista Drive.

Fire Station 33 will be on 1.57 acres near the southeast corner of Swenson and Desert Inn Road. The authority will lease the property to the Fire Department for $1 per year. The site is part of a 9.28-acre parcel the authority bought in March 1996 for $14.5 million, according to Clark County assessor records. The bulk of that property is now used for overflow parking.

Ralenkotter said it's difficult to put a value on the 1.57 acres the fire department will lease because that land was purchased so long ago. However, the authority has recently paid a premium to buy several lots near the convention center, as evidenced by July's $3.65 million agreement to buy just a half-acre lot along Joe W. Brown Drive.

Board member Yvonne Atkinson Gates, who is also a member of the Clark County Commission, expressed support for the fire station but asked the board to extend the proposed 30-year lease agreement to as much as 99 years to enable the county to make the most of its investment.

The board on Tuesday approved a 50-year lease, though plans to extend its terms to 99 years are expected to come before the board at a later date.

Language may be inserted into the contract allowing the authority to move the station to another portion of the convention center's campus should future growth require a change.

Separately, schematic plans for the police substation are almost complete and the authority will soon begin vetting a list of builders that hope to bid on that project, said Michael Musgrave of the authority's project management team.

The $18 million police station will be financed by the authority, which in February began work on a $737 million upgrade of the 3.2 million-square-foot convention center.