NFPA goes backstage at Beatles Cirque du Soleil

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

LAS VEGAS--I had an opportunity to attend a different kind of sold-out show with the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel on June 1-a behind-the-scenes showcase of the fire protection system.

The tour and technical presentation was part of the NFPA conference, which began the next day at the Mandalay Bay. The theater-in-the-round at the Mirage presented all kinds of problems to the folks charged with protecting it-and the audience and the performers-from fire. The result is a remarkably complex, multi-layered, adaptable fire system that combines fire alarms, VESDA, and a variety of sprinkler systems.

And the tour was a production in itself. Doug Evans, of the Clark County Department of Development Services and a member of the Southern Nevada Chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and his team of fire protection engineers and the Cirque people, coordinated moving 75 visitors to key points and some tight spaces in and around the theater. We were on the lower level of the theater where the mechanical lifts move parts of the stage, in the main control room, and way up on the grid, which is 55 feet above the main stage-and yes, you can see through the floor.

Among the visitors was Dereck Rascon a consultant and designer for A-Tech Systems, a fire and security integrator out of Hacienda Heights, Calif., who is also chief engineer for the famous Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. Rascon said the Cirque system was far more complex than anything he’d seen before.

Tom Wahl is from SAFE Electronics, the Vegas company that designed and installed the fire system and did the controls for the suppression system. He’s got a dedicated staff that manages the fire system on site and who are on call at all times. Asked about the maintenance involved, he said, “We do maintenance on it daily.”

The fire suppression contractor, Lyle Norris of Desert Fire Protection here in Vegas, said the collaboration involved in designing this system “was fun. This theater is unlike any other in the world and I’ve been doing this kind of work for 25 years. It was an authentic team effort. We sat in a room and figured out what to do because there’s nothing in the codes that are going to tell us. The intent of the code is there, but how to make it work in this building is not there.”