Through the Years...
(1980 - 81) When the 80s rolled in, Chief Roy Parrish was at the helm of the Clark County Fire Department, the valley was growing, and the Strip had become an increasingly popular tourists destination. While the decade began anew with some normalcy, that first year ended shockingly as major fires ripped through two resort properties, reshaping the way firefighters responded to fire emergencies and leading to the creation of the Retrofit Law. The law required all older hotels to install sprinkler systems. It was believed that if automatic sprinklers had been in place at the MGM and Hilton, the damage and loss of life could have been avoided.
The distress call came into fire dispatch on Nov. 21, 1980 alerting crews that the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino was burning. Eighty-five people died that day. The MGM fire catapulted the Clark County Fire Department into the international spotlight. Volumes have been written and recorded about the blaze, the department, and the lessons learned. In an almost unbelievable turn of events, the department was hit by a second high-rise fire three months later when arson struck the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and Casino. Horrors of the MGM fire were still fresh in the minds of first responders as they rolled out to fight flames burning on the exterior of the Hilton, one of the largest high-rise buildings in Nevada boasting 2, 783 guest rooms. Eight people died in the Hilton fire that injured hundreds.
These high-profile fires sounded the alarm for change in how fires were handled, not just how crews responded, but how buildings were constructed to anticipate a fire emergency. Undoubtedly, the impact of the Retrofit Law as well as other safety features, has played a large role in making Clark County one of the most fire-safe places in the world. Philip Cline was convicted or arson in association with the Hilton fire and is serving eight consecutive life sentences without parole.
The casino fires claimed civilian life, but left fire crews relatively unscathed. Despite the fire and smoke in the extremely deadly atmosphere where firefighters worked to put out the blaze, not a single firefighter life was lost. The next scare for the department came on April 2, 1981, during a fast-moving fire at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino. Reports of a fire on the fifth floor of the central tower at Caesars Palace came in around 10:30 a.m. Clark County Firefighters responding to the call arrived to find smoke coming from the west side of the building's fifth floor. The scene was worse from the inside with heavy smoke throughout and no electricity.
Captain Don Warren with Engine 12 sent his only firefighter with the Engine 11 crew while he remained in the stairwell helping guests evacuate. Then a security guard came to Captain Warren asking for help getting an unconscious guest out of a room. The security officer led Captain Warren through the heavy smoke to a room where they began a search for the guest. After a short while, the guard was overcome by smoke and had to leave Captain Warren on his own. Within minutes, the room flashed over and everything ignited at once! Surrounded by flames, Captain Warren struggled to find a way out. Soon, the sound of the fire quieted and he could hear the muffled sound of firefighters talking to each other. A crew had cut through the fire and saved Warren’s life. When the firefighters saw him, the straps on his air pack were still burning. Firefighter Ron Patron put out the flames and, with help from Captain Carl Lowe, the two brought Warren out of the hotel. Captain Warren suffered severe burns over his body and underwent numerous surgeries. Fortunately two years later, he returned to full duty.
(1983 -85) The Training Center & Fire Boat
With three major fires in their rearview mirror, the department turned to training in the mid 1980s. In 1983, a flurry of construction projects came online. On Jan. 1, a new County Fire Training Center at Tropicana Avenue and Arville Road opened along with a new Mechanics Shop. A drill tower, located just behind the Training Center was completed just a few months later. The new center housed the Fire Prevention Bureau. This facility brought with it improved training, vehicle maintenance and other valuable services.
In December of 1983, Station 13 moved into a new and improved facility. The grand opening of the new Station 13 provided then McCarran International Airport with one of the most modern and best-equipped crash fire-rescue facilities in the nation.
On July 21,1983, Clark County became the first department in the state to claim a boat as part of its firefighting fleet. The boat was dubbed the "Pottawatomie" in honor of Chief Parrish’s Indian tribe. Stationed in Laughlin, the Pottawatomie sported a 250 GPM pump and two discharges and was mainly used to fight fires on small pleasure craft that sailed along the Colorado River. The Pottawatomie also could be used as a rescue platform for any water related emergencies. In July 1985, Chief Parrish announced that the department had received a Class 2 rating for its fire protection and response capability. In addition, insurance ratings were lowered. The Pottawatomie was decommissioned due to theft and vandalism.
(1986-88) Haz-Mat Team & The Pepcon Explosion
Living in a world of modern technology, the term hazardous materials quickly became a catch phrase in fire service circles. Departments all over the nation found themselves face-to-face with all kinds of toxins, flammables, biohazards, and radioactive materials. Thus, Haz-Mat 1 arrived in 1986 to help the department battle this newfound foe. This hazardous materials vehicle carried with it a variety of specialized equipment to deal with these deadly substances. State of the art protective chemical suits, sparkless tools, and a computer with an extensive chemical database and modem capabilities were all tools stored on this rig. The vehicle was partially funded with federal revenue sharing funds. Today the Haz-Mat team undergoes rigorous training on a day-to-day basis to handle any deadly situation.
One such incident was the explosion heard around the world. On May 4, 1988, the Pacific Engineering Plant (Pepcon) literally blew itself off the face of the map, taking the Kidd Marshmallow Factory and thousands of windows with it. Pepcon was the main source of ammonium perchlorate, a solid rocket fuel used by the space shuttle program. A wayward spark from a welder’s torch started a fire that soon engulfed the plant. The fire and several explosions caused by it, claimed the lives of two people and turned the surrounding landscape into a war zone. Those in the valley the day Pepcon blew will not soon forget it.