Grill The Fire Expert: Warning Messages in Casinos

Q: I have a question about a fire alarm system in a three-floor casino. The manager has asked me to change the message to tell the patrons to stay in place until a fire is confirmed. I don't think this is right to ask the patrons to do. I do understand they may have money in the machines but what is your life worth if it is a real fire? I told my customer I would check into it and get back to him. Any information you provide would be greatly appreciated. -K.P.

A: The notification appliance chapter of NFPA 72 states: “The requirements of this chapter shall address the reception of a notification signal and not the signal's information content.” That tells you the local fire department will determine what the message says, Your job is only making sure it can be heard and understood.

In a written letter, insist that the chief send you an “approved” message, in writing, signed, on FD letterhead. In the same letter, ask him if he wants to witness an acceptance test after you are finished.

Recently I was in the Venetian casino for the International Security Conference (ISC West) and heard a fire alarm alert tone, followed by a pre-recorded voice message that also told me to stand-by while the cause was being “investigated.” I went and stood about 40 feet from an exit. It took about 20 minutes to get the ‘all clear' announcement, while the alert tone and ‘wait' message re-sounded every five minutes or so.

This sequence of operation is SOP for Las Vegas casinos and may also be used for any other building with such a large occupant load. I contacted Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Donahue of the City of Las Vegas , for insight. Donahue, who is also the president of the Southern Nevada Fire Prevention Association, states that “staged evacuation” is often used for the large common areas and the floor-above/floor-below announcement is commonly used for the guest room section.

According to Donohue, with the casino's extensive automatic smoke detection, zoned smoke control, automatic fire doors, fans and dampers, sprinkler system and other similar measures also in place, a short wait during an investigation into the cause is acceptable.

So, submit your proposed voice message to the plan review department. Allow the officials in the review department to take all safety features into consideration when they decide on the approved voice messages.

By the way, the strobe lights flashed the entire 20 minutes. This practice of silencing the horns while leaving the strobes flashing is illegal in the 2007 edition of NFPA 72. I can easily see where this was a mean trick to play on the hearing-impaired occupants. You may need to fix that too, while you are at it.