Fire safety a good bet at Mississippi casinos

Feb. 29--BILOXI -- A Jan. 26 fire at the Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas caused $100 million in damage and lost business, and showed casino disaster doesn't come just in the form of hurricanes.

Coast casino representatives and the Biloxi Fire Department say they are prepared should a fire break out in the hotel towers or anywhere on the properties. The fire department has frequent inspections, and casinos require safety orientation for new employees and periodic fire training.

A Sound Off caller who said he is a dealer at a local casino also said he doesn't know what to do in the event of a fire. If that is the case and someone doesn't know the procedures to follow, the supervisors and managers will direct them, said Adam Jowett, director of security at Hard Rock Casino.

In November when a fire broke out in the flue of the coffee roaster at the Beau Rivage, "We got to see how well our plan worked. We had to evacuate all the retail promenade," said Eric Newton, director of security. "It was a textbook-perfect evacuation," and the security team met with the Biloxi Fire Department a few days later to review the response.

Evacuation-training classes are coming up in March because they are scheduled annually for supervisors and security, said Newton.

"Different departments have different procedures"; dealers, for instance, learn what to do with the money in their care. Actual surprise fire drills are held yearly in departments that can evacuate without affecting the guests. Newton said for front-desk and casino personnel they do a "table top" drill and ask, "Exactly what would you do?"

The Beau Rivage performs these drills annually and "every employee is taught two exits, not just one," Newton said.

Dwight Savell, director of security at IP Casino Resort, said they get updated lists each shift pinpointing the rooms in which handicapped guests are staying. Security also goes to the hotel stairwells to assist guests who evacuate.

Biloxi Fire Chief David Roberts said, "We're in the casinos all the time inspecting," and with all the follow-ups, that amounts to an average of four times a year. The highest of the city's four ladder trucks reaches 116 feet and Roberts said, "Anything over that you wouldn't want to be fighting on a ladder anyway." Biloxi's firefighters have special training for high rises and Roberts said they looked into the details of the Monte Carlo fire. "If we can learn anything from Vegas we will."

Bob Davidge, spokesman for Hollywood Casino Bay St. Louis, said the resort and the Bay St. Louis Fire Department are well prepared. At 14 stories, "We're the biggest building in Hancock County. The fire department actually trains here."

The most-recent training involved role-playing with an employee acting as a Spanish-speaking "victim" directing firefighters to victims and escape routes.

Rick Welborn, safety coordinator at Hollywood Casino, said they train each September and April so employees know their role in aiding guests. For the dealers, "their function would be to secure their tables and then evacuate the building."