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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Natural Disaster

Adam Housley

Los Angeles, CA

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Las Vegas High-Rise Fire

January 27, 2011 - 11:21 AM | by: Adam Housley

More than 40-million people visit the Las Vegas Strip every year and 90% of those people stay in high rises that stretch in some cases more than 60 stories into the sky. So it may not be hard to believe that the Fire Station that covers the strip is the busiest in the world and has the task of fighting fires hundreds of feet above the casinos and stores that draw-in millions from around the globe.

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We first got word of special high-rise training in Las Vegas through a close friend of mine Captain Rian Glassford of Clark County Fire. The process and planning began months ago and throughout this month, two times a day on drill days, about 90 firefighters responded to the nearly completed Foutainebleau Hotel for a mock fire on the 32nd floor. Our crew has covered tons of fires and been through significant fire training, but this opportunity to see men and women train in such a unique way was impossible to pass up….so, we suited up and headed in right along side them.

From the outset, the drill is as real as you can get. I am with Truck 17 and we are one of the first to arrive on scene. Within seconds our gear is on, a massive crowbar is tucked into my belt and thrown over my air tank….a nice chuck of hose. At this moment firefighters Karl Kendrick and Eric Ontiveros tell me, “You gotta take everything you might need with you because it does no good if we get up there and what we need is sitting back here in the truck.” It’s clear to me, firefighters while already formulating a way to respond to the fire, double as pack mules to get everything on scene.

We walk about 300 yards then enter the facility and meet actors who give us details about the fire on the 32nd floor. Our team then makes its way through what will eventually be a hotel lobby and to the service elevators for a ride up. We cram in and prepare our masks and air tanks and the elevator stops eventually at the 27th floor. This is where we get off and head up two flights of stairs per floor….still carrying the extra 70-80 pounds of gear.

The team rallies on the 30th floor and hoses are laid here and connected as if this fire was truly real. Strung up the stairs, we eventually open the door from the stairway and smoke billows out of floor 32…this isn’t going to be easy. The air in my mask is cool, but with the hike up the stairs and lugging all the gear, my mask starts to fog as sweat gets trapped inside my suit and my body begins to tire.

Our team is chosen to go in first and we step from the stairwell into a pitch black smokey hall. A smoke machine provides the reality and a hose inflator gives us the feeling of a full hose…though much lighter. After a few steps walking, we are quickly told by our Captain Eric Grismanauskas and Engineer Joe Ragonese to drop to our knees, keeping the hose on our right side as we continue to crawl forward. At this point I am very hot, breathing through the mask is labored and dragging a crow bar isn’s comfortable.

As we stop for only a moment and more instructions are yelled out, we get the call of a man down and I am pressed into service to help drag one of my colleagues down the hallway. Keeping hold of the hose to find our way and still dragging the crowbar, I use my left hand to help grab the back of the jacket of Karl…who is now considered a firefighter down according to the drill. My energy is low and with no visibility and significant heat within my suit, Eric and I drag Karl to the stairwell where other firefighters help pull him out. At this point I am beyond spent and gasping for air. My buddy Captain Rian Glassford would later tell me that the picture he saw of me leaning against a wall wondering if my lungs will get enough air, is one he and many other firefighters have lived many times. Remember….this is just a drill.

Photo Gallery
Firefighter Eric Ontiveros
Image 1 of 8
  • Firefighter Eric Ontiveros
  • On the Drill Scene
  • Meeting after the Drill
  • Adam & Rian Glassford
  • Firefighters Head in
  • Firefighter Karl Kendrick