On The Job – Nevada: Building Collapses Hamper Firefighting At Pahrump Casino

The Pahrump, NV, Fire Department was dispatched to a reported grease fire in the kitchen of the Mountain View Casino. Jay K. Bradish reports on what became the largest fire in the history of the department.


On the morning of April 29, 2003, the Pahrump, NV, Fire Department was dispatched to a reported grease fire in the kitchen of the Mountain View Casino on Pahrump Valley Boulevard. This fire would soon become the largest fire in the history of the city. Photo by John...


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On the morning of April 29, 2003, the Pahrump, NV, Fire Department was dispatched to a reported grease fire in the kitchen of the Mountain View Casino on Pahrump Valley Boulevard. This fire would soon become the largest fire in the history of the city.

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Photo by John O’Brien/Pahrump Fire-Rescue Service

PAHRUMP FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Scott Lewis
PersonneL: 34 career and 26 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Seven engines, three tenders, one rescue, two brush trucks, two quick attacks, seven ambulances
Population: 32,000
Area: 400 square miles

Pahrump is a bedroom community of 32,000 people, 45 minutes southwest of Las Vegas and seven miles east of the California state line. This community is an “island” surrounded by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and mountainous terrain. The city has five casinos, a Super Wal-Mart store, light industry and several service organizations as its major employers. The closest mutual aid is the Crystal Volunteer Fire Department with two engines and a water tender 26 miles away. Next, is the Clark County Fire Department located 50 miles away.

The Pahrump Fire Department is a combination department with 34 career (working full and part time) and 26 volunteer firefighters. Pahrump is the only advanced life support (ALS) provider for a 400-square-mile area and provides mutual aid ALS to another 200 square miles. When the casino fire occurred, Pahrump’s older 60-foot Snorkel was out of service; therefore, the rescue company was acting as the truck company.

The Mountain View Casino was constructed in 1982 of steel truss and wood framing with a flat roof, and originally measured 24,900 square feet. The building was unoccupied in 1985 to 1986, being purchased by the present owners in 1987. In 1998 and 1999, two additions were made to the structure, increasing its size to 63,000 square feet. A 24-lane bowling alley, a 275-seat convention center, a video arcade and additional gaming area were included in the additions. Phase one of the additions was block construction while phase two was of lightweight steel and stucco construction, both with flat roofs.

At 4:01 A.M., the department was dispatched and responded with Engine 11, a 1,500-gpm pumper, Engine 5, a 1,250-gpm pumper and two medic units with seven firefighters under the command of Lieutenant David McClellan. A Nye County sheriff’s deputy arrived on scene at 4:04 and reported heavy smoke showing. Hearing this report, Fire Chief Scott Lewis, responding from home, immediately requested an “all-hands,” which initiated a full recall of all career and volunteer firefighters. Lewis arrived at 4:07 and saw heavy smoke coming from the roof of the casino at the southeast corner. During his “360” size-up, he learned that 30 people were still in the building.

Engine 11 laid a 700-foot five-inch supply line from a hydrant north of the building to the southwest casino entrance. Lewis and two firefighters entered the building through the southeast entrance, evacuated the occupants and proceeded to the kitchen with a 20-pound CO2 extinguisher. A grease fire was observed in a cooking vat and extinguished with the extinguisher. The kitchen’s fire protection system had not activated, but sprinklers in the kitchen area were activated and cascading through the ceiling.

After extinguishing the vat fire, Lewis and Firefighter Chris Van Leuven saw fire burning between the kitchen ceiling and the roof of the building. Lewis exited the building and established a command post on the east side of the building. Additional apparatus responding on the “all-hands” call included Heavy Rescue 15, Engine 3, a 1,250-gpm pumper, Squad 1, a mass casualty unit, and several additional medic units. With the exception of Engine 3 and Rescue 15, most units were placed into Level 1 staging adjacent to the command post.

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