Hilton fire renews quest for better high-rise safety

Is there a life-saving lesson to be learned from the high-rise fires of the last few months, including two in Las Vegas hotels? There is, according to Donald Flynn, a former fire chief who is executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs:

"If you are going to put people inside an oven -- which is, in effect, what a building is, any building -- and you don't provide a chimney or smoke shaft, people are going to continue to lose their lives."

At this writing, eight lives were known to have been lost and 198 people injured in a fire Feb. 10 at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Last Nov. 21 a fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas killed 84 and injured more than 600.

Other safety officials agree with Mr. Flynn that one of the best fire safety engineering features that can be put into new or existing structures is a separate shaft equipped with fans or ventilating devices.

In many instances existing stairwells, properly equipped, can be utilized for this purpose relatively inexpensively.

Fire Chief Roy Parrish has suggested that arson may have been the cause of the fire at the Las Vegas Hilton, said to be the biggest hotel in the United States and second-largest in the world after the Rossiya in Moscow. Chief Parrish said investigators had determined that three separate fires broke out in the 30- story tower -- the main fire near the elevator lobby on the eighth floor and smaller fires later on the second and third floors.

Barron Hilton, chairman of the board of the Hilton Hotels Corporation, said in a statement early Feb. 11 that the hotel company itself "will spare no effort in getting to the cause of the fire."

Mr. Flynn said the hotel fire pointed up the need for sprinklers in every room of such structures as well as early fire warnin g devices.

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