Fire Department

The Eighties...

November 21, 1980 is a date that Clark County firefighters will never forget-the day of the MGM Hotel fire. The MGM fire catapulted the Clark County Fire Department into the international spotlight. Volumes have been written and recorded about the fire, the department, and the lessons learned. In an almost unbelievable turn of events, the department was hit by a second high rise fire. The Hilton was burning. The horror of the MGM was still fresh in the minds of fire responders as they rolled out to see flames burning on the exterior of one of the largest high rise buildings in Nevada.

MGM Fire, November 1980

The Hilton was the scene of the last fire related civilian fatality in southern Nevada. Undoubtedly, the impact of the Retrofit law that required sprinklers in all high rise buildings, 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.

The department managed to make it through the MGM and Hilton fires relatively unscathed. Despite the magnitude of the fires and the extremely deadly atmosphere where the firefighters had to work, not a single firefighter life was lost. In April 1981 however, a fast moving fire looked as if it might claim another life.

Reports of a fire at the luxurious Caesars Palace were coming in and the Clark County Fire Department answered the call. Around 10:30 A.M., first-in units arrived to find smoke coming from the west side of the building on the fifth floor. The fifth floor looked worse from the inside. There was heavy smoke throughout the floor and the power had been lost.

Captain Don Warren of Engine 12 had sent his only firefighter with Engine 11's crew while he remained at the stairwell to help guests evacuate. Just 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 had to bail out as the thick smoke became too much to handle. Captain Warren decided to continue on.

The room flashed over-everything ignited at once! Surrounded by flames, Captain Warren tried 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 first firefighters saw him, the straps on his air pack were still burning. Firefighter Ron Patron put out the remaining fire and, with the help of Captain Carl Lowe, assisted Warren out of the hotel. Captain Warren suffered painful burn injuries and endured numerous surgeries. A little over two years later, he was back to full duty.

In 1983, another flurry of construction projects came to a finish. On January 1, a new Mechanics Shop was completed followed by the completion of the new Training Center located at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Arville Road. A drill tower, located just behind the Training Center was completed just a few months later. The new center became the home of the Fire Prevention Bureau. This facility brought with it improved training, vehicle maintenance, and other services and is an invaluable tool in maintaining the highest caliber of readiness.

In December of 1983, Station 13 moved into a new and improved facility. The grand opening of the new Station 13 provided McCarran International Airport with one of the most modern and best-equipped crash fire-rescue facilities in the nation.

On July 21,1983, the 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, Nevada, 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 could also be used as a rescue platform for any other water related emergencies. Sadly, the Pottawatomie was decommissioned due to theft and vandalism.

In July of 1985, Chief Parrish proudly announced that the department had been notified that it had received a Class 2 rating. This meant the department had achieved a higher level of fire protection and response capability. In addition, insurance ratings were lowered.

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.

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