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Joan Whitely

Hotel's safes created hazard

25 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A hotel amenity became a fire hazard when safes to hold valuables were installed incorrectly in 15 percent of guest rooms at the Monte Carlo. The hotel learned of the problem in December and was taking steps to fix it when a rooftop fire broke out in late January.

Work reinstalling 450 room safes in the hotel, which has approximately 3,000 rooms, is under way, Alan Feldman said Friday afternoon. He is a senior vice president of public affairs with MGM-Mirage, which owns the Monte Carlo.

The wrongly placed room safes had no connection to the blaze, according to the executive. In fact, the fire postponed the intended start of the repairs, he said.

The Jan. 25 fire was caused by unsafe welding on the roof, the Clark County Fire Department has determined.

"These are obviously events that you work hard to avoid. (Improper installation of safes) was on its face unacceptable, and we moved immediately to correct it," Feldman said Friday afternoon.

Addition of the safes was one enhancement that helped the Monte Carlo earn a four-diamond hotel rating from AAA in 2007.

Feldman said the hotel began installing the safes in mid-2005, and the project took about nine months.

In 450 instances, workers incorrectly mounted safes that were not rated to withstand fire, by cutting into the fire-resistive wall separating one guest room from the next guest room, Feldman said. That is a violation of safety code.

A fire-rated wall is supposed to keep fire on one side from traveling through to the other, for the rated time span.

Walls between guest rooms are required to have a one-hour rating. So a nonrated safe placed into a rated wall creates, in effect, a large hole that sabotages the wall's protective mission, according to Terry Taylor, a fire investigator based in Northern Nevada.

Another acceptable strategy is to put a nonrated safe into a nonrated wall. In a hotel room, a typical nonrated wall is the one separating the sleeping area from the bathroom. Nonrated safes can also safely be installed in armoires or closets, Taylor said.

The Monte Carlo is using both strategies as it corrects the faulty installations, depending on the configuration of each affected room, Feldman said.

He also detailed the sequence of pertinent events at the Monte Carlo.

In December an "outside" source raised the question of unsafe safes, according to Feldman.

He wouldn't identify the party, but said it was not the county Fire Department.

In December, the Fire Department was following up on repairs to remove safety violations that it had found in November, during a surprise complaint-triggered inspection of the Strip resort.

According to Feldman, the hotel "immediately" got in touch with officials at the county building division to ascertain repairs, and inspected all its rooms.

The county building division reviewed paperwork from the hotel detailing the proposed repair on Jan. 18, a week before the fire.

The county issued a permit for the reinstallation project on Jan. 31. It did not view the deficiency of the improper safe installation as a condition that warranted closing guest rooms.

Feldman expects the reinstallations will be completed within two months.

Gary Hughes, director of engineering, and Patrick Muns, a locksmith -- whose job descriptions suggest they were likely involved in the original installation of room safes -- recently left their jobs with the hotel.

Feldman wouldn't comment on their participation in that project, or the nature of their departures.