Cal-Neva warned about fire alarm system
The Cal-Neva Lodge has until Dec. 15 to start work on a faulty fire alarm system, a problem that the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District made public Tuesday.
Fire Marshal Tom Smith was on his way over to the hotel and casino in Crystal Bay Tuesday to post a notice that Cal-Neva Lodge must start work on the fire alarm system or the 220-room hotel, casino and spa would be shut down.
However, in an 11th-hour move, the Cal-Neva ownership moved to correct the longstanding problem, Smith said.
The Cal-Neva Lodge’s alarm system has been failing since August, when a series of false alarms raised Smith’s suspicions.
“After a few false alarms from their system in August we investigated and found out that the system had failed and was not repairable,” Smith said. “State law mandates that it be maintained, so I noticed (management) on the 16th (of August) and asked them to get to work on the problem immediately and to correct it within 30 days.”
Smith said the fire alarm system’s wiring is faulty and no longer reliable, although the sprinkler system is operational if a fire started. The alarm may or may not notify the occupants or the fire department if a fire started, according to Smith.
Cal-Neva General Manager Steve Tremewan confirmed that since the initial notice in August, the Cal-Neva has instituted a series of fire safety checks.
“Basically, what is happening is that every hour, on the hour, we’re walking through the casino checking for fire safety-related issues,” Tremewan said.
In an official letter to Tremewan on Nov. 21, Smith specified that the hotel, which straddles the Nevada-California state line, is in violation of Nevada Revised Statute 477.130, which requires hotels with over 20 rooms to equip buildings with fire alarms. Chief Duane Whitelaw of the California side fire district said his district, the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, is carefully monitoring the situation.
“Continued operation of the hotel and casino constitutes an immediate, clear and present danger to the occupants of the Cal-Neva Lodge,” Smith said in the letter. This is the same information the Cal-Neva received on Aug. 16, Smith said.
The Cal-Neva did not immediately correct the problem last summer, Smith said, instead they let it go until he notified management again. At that point, Smith said the Cal-Neva contracted Briggs Electric to submit a proposal for the new alarm system, which he approved on Oct. 10.
“Briggs really hustled and it was a very comprehensive plan. I saw no fault with it,” Smith said.
But, the Cal-Neva’s communication with the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District lapsed again. The plan Briggs submitted was not executed. None of the corporate owners have contacted him directly, Smith said, adding that his only contact has been Tremewan. The Cal-Neva Lodge is owned by Maram Holdings, based in Los Angeles, according to Smith.
Both Tremewan and Cal-Neva Asset Manager Gary Bedian said the bid process for a new system is long and expensive.
“This isn’t something we can just do today. We have to get bids on the work, review the bids and then sign the contract. This isn’t an inexpensive proposition, either, and we wanted to go about this in the best possible way,” Bedian said.
Smith estimated a new alarm system would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, he didn’t excuse the lack of communication from ownership.
“They probably went a month without contacting me, so I assumed the ownership refused or neglected to fix the problem,” Smith said. “I gave ownership notice on Nov. 21 that they must be working on the alarm system by Dec. 15 or we’d close the operation.”
That Nov. 21 letter from the fire district made its way to the desk of Jerry Markling, the chief of enforcement with the Nevada Gaming Commission.
“We were contacted on Nov. 21 and got in contact with the Cal-Neva’s management and the landlord. We believe they have every intent of fixing the problem, but we will monitor the situation because we are concerned that our licensees abide by local codes,” Markling said.
Smith planned to post a sign on the Cal-Neva’s front doors Tuesday, letting management, employees and customers know a shutdown was on the way if changes are not made. However, he did not need to post the sign, he said.
“They told me today that they were in the process of getting a bid on the system and would execute the contract and start work on an alarm system by Dec. 15,” Smith said.
John Harounian, an associate asset manager with the Cal-Neva’s ownership group, confirmed the Cal-Neva’s plans and questioned Smith’s timing.
“We had every intention to comply, it was not necessary for this to become a public matter. We don’t know why (Smith) would bring this up now when we don’t have to comply until the 15th. There was no reason for this to end up in the papers,” Harounian said.
“This is outlandish. It seems like this goes deeper than us not having the system in. I don’t think this is business as usual, it seems personal,” Bedian said.
Smith said quite the opposite.
“This was a tactic that I employed because I was not comfortable with the work they were doing on the system. My job is to make sure every building in the jurisdiction is safe and this was not. This was the biggest red flag I could raise,” Smith said. “Listen, I didn’t want them to shut down and neither did they or the state gaming board, but this is a very serious problem. It’s a critical system and they are neglecting it. This is terrible, and it will be chaos over there if we need to shut them down.”