Siemens being investigated by Nevada fire marshal

Company's maintenance of fire systems at seniors home, hotel-casinos questioned

Harrah's Entertainment, which owns Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon, was not aware of the investigation. "Any comment would have to come from the fire marshal or the county fire department," said spokesman Gary Thompson.

The Colorado Belle and the Edgewater, which have the same ownership, did not respond to phone queries from the newspaper.

Siemens and Estany have been adversaries since well before the state investigation. Siemens laid off Estany in November 2006, then sued him in March 2007, alleging that its former service supervisor - who went to work for local competitors - divulged proprietary information and bad-mouthed Siemens.

Estany, who is representing himself, has been fined for contempt of court because he isn't cooperating with Siemens' lawyers.

Estany told the newspaper that during his time with Siemens he voiced his criticisms to superiors, but did not disparage the company to clients.

"If there was a top five of fire alarms (technicians in Las Vegas), I'd be in it," said Estany, who has worked in the industry for 18 years, about two of those at Siemens.

Estany claims the businesses who quit Siemens' service, and gave their accounts to Estany's subsequent employers, are simply loyal customers who appreciate his work.

Siemens contends Estany made "derogatory statements" to Clark County fire officials in an "elaborate effort to instigate investigations into SBT (Siemens) and its product line, based on false information for no valid reason." The allegation was made in a Nov. 24 document filed in the civil case, which District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez is hearing.

Depositions by two other former Siemens technicians "strongly indicate" that Estany's claims of inferior work are "false and completely inaccurate and motivated by resentment," the company also said in the filing.

An official with the National Fire Protection Association seemed surprised and concerned when told of the maintenance practices described by the ex-employees. The non-profit group creates model fire safety codes, which cities and states across the country then modify and adopt as law.

For example, Siemens sometimes assigned technicians to go alone to test systems at large buildings, according to former technician Jose Barral. In his deposition, he said that forced him to run back and forth between each of numerous components he was testing and the centralized control panel.

"I cannot picture a scenario where you could realistically have one technician doing this kind of task, unless you send them to a (small) one-story building," said Robert Solomon, after a reporter's summary of Barral's description.

Solomon is the association's division manager for building and life safety codes.

Barral also testified that when he found deficiencies in a client's fire system, he would later dictate his findings for another employee to write up. Some reports did not list any deficiencies, he said.

When Barral realized his signature was on the reports, he grew alarmed.

Another legal declaration filed Aug. 21 by Siemens contradicts a July 10 report by county fire inspectors. Both documents characterize the condition of the fire safety system at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road.

County inspectors found "no defect, deficiencies or otherwise below-standard automatic detection equipment," when they went to the Hard Rock to respond to Estany's wide-ranging complaint, according to Siemens manager Reyes.

But the fire department report noted several problems with fire alarm equipment there, in places that matched Hard Rock locations specified by Estany in his original statement. The department's report ordered "reinspection of property for discrepancies" within seven days.

The Hard Rock is no longer under scrutiny by state investigators, however, since Siemens swiftly repaired deficiencies when the county documented them, Fire Marshal Wright said.

His office is awaiting further technical information from the Clark County Fire Department, which could result in any of the three hotels also being dropped from the investigation, he added.

Estany, who is currently unemployed, claims Siemens has not only "gagged" him from exposing safety problems, but also harmed his ability to earn a living, by interfering with his subsequent employers through a cease-and-desist letter and phone calls.