Firefighters stage casino hotel blaze |

Firefighters stage casino hotel blaze

William Ferchland
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District firefighter Dennis Scott searches a room for occupants during a massive fire drill at the Horizon Casino Resort. In the background are fellow firefighters and a drill evaluator.

STATELINE – Roughly two decades have passed since Horizon Casino Resort had this type of fire.

It was on the sixth floor, near the end of the hallway. There was thick smoke, injured guests and a hose pumping 125 gallons of water per minute.

To the naked eye, the scene looked like an authentic concern but for firefighters and Horizon security it was a needed simulation of a blaze in a 240-room building.

Units from Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District were the first to respond. A small army of trucks and firefighters trickled in, as the nonexistent fire grew and those inside demanded more supplies.

“You can sense in the radio traffic that people are working this, they’re not nonchalant,” said Bruce Van Cleemput, fire chief of Tahoe-Douglas.

The drill scenario began with a fire erupting in a room on the sixth floor. The fire burned undetected until smoke reached the hallway and triggered the smoke alarm. The sprinklers did not react since they were shut down for repairs.

Nontoxic smoke machines provided thick haze and a target for firefighters. The scenario stated the fire would continue flaring into the walls and ceiling. The fire would then jump to the room above on the seventh floor. A person overcome with smoke would be discovered in that area.

Meanwhile, firefighters checked rooms. Those cleared had blue tape tacked to their doors.

Cleemput said a large casino fire hasn’t happened in years. A strong response was needed for the 1,100 pound bomb found in Harveys Resort Casino in August 1980 but besides that extraordinary event, fire units usually get calls for medical aid and false alarms at the casinos.

“The problem is these don’t occur regularly,” he said.

If one did occur, it would look like the scene Tuesday morning.

Seven engines, four ambulances, one ladder truck and command vehicles littered the back parking lot, which was cleared by casino employees about 24 hours earlier.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Lake Valley Fire Protection District helped with the exercise. One command vehicle had a North Lake Tahoe Fire Department emblem.

If it were a serious fire, 20 fire agencies from around the basin, and around Douglas and Washoe counties, would be available.

It wouldn’t be pretty. With 240 rooms with a maximum occupancy of four per room in Horizon’s Aspen Tower, nearly 1,000 would have to be evacuated during a busy season.

Ellen Pollard, Horizon’s marketing manager, said plans for the simulation were made about three months ago. The tower was empty of guests and volunteers acted as the injured.

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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