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They don't do anything until somebody dies
by Andrew Barbano
Dec 12, 2013 | 761 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The downtown Reno multiplex and University of Nevada student union theaters pose extreme fire hazards.

"They don't do anything until somebody dies," darkly murmured a long-time local fire expert who didn't want to be quoted.

There's an epidemic of that going around.

When Reno City Hall bent over to build the downtown theaters, they narrowed W. First Street despite firefighter objections, the expert told me. Later, they installed planter-dividers to make adjacent West Street prettier. Result: neither First nor West can accommodate fire trucks.

Hundreds reside in high-rises right there.

Corporate welfare has a sorry history of getting Nevadans killed.

Websearch the 1980-81 MGM Grand and Las Vegas Hilton fires that cost more than 100 lives.

Have we learned? Not so's ya'd notice, which brings me to the firetrap third-floor theater at the modern Joe Crowley Student Union.

All access to the 224-seat facility comes via two long, narrow (minimum 44.8 inches), unevenly down-sloping wheelchair chutes, only one of which was in use on the occasions I've attended.

Put another way, 100 people, conservatively 150 pounds each, weigh about 15,000 pounds. That's 7.5 tons of panicky meat on the hoof trying to avoid barbecue in a few smoky seconds via a single-file bottleneck dumping into a postage-stamp-sized foyer.

Does anyone analyze actual logistics or is everything formulaic? It took a couple of weeks for the UNR administration to develop a lawyerly, bureaucratic defense that "the theatre was originally constructed (and remains) fully code compliant."

So were the MGM and Hilton.

I have been informed by another fire expert that theater hallways in Reno are built to the same specifications (two-tenths of an inch per occupant) as the Crowley cave, which you may view for yourself in the web edition of this column at

The state fire marshal's office, which has primary authority over the facility, has not returned repeated phone calls.

If you must attend the facilities in question, increase your life and accident insurance coverage.

CORRECTION. Unlike some, when I make a mistake I own it and eat it. Last week, I published an incorrect annual sales estimate for KRNV TV-4, which was just acquired by megaraptor Sinclair Broadcast Group. The actual number falls around $5 million. Mea culpa. You may access the full story at the expanded web edition of last week's Barbwire at

KETCHUP ON THE CROW. I further noted how Sinclair-owned KRXI Fox-11 apparently resisted local nutso pressure to emulate the Fox Skewed News channel. Now, less than a week after the TV-4 ingestion, Fox-11 News seems to be morphing toward Murdochian moonhowling. Makes me wonder how Sinclair might try to manipulate its two news departments, especially after they drop KTVU-Oakland's popular 10 O'Clock News.

COLD WEATHER ADVICE: If you freeze your buns you might break your arse.

Be careful out there.

Esté bien. Haga infierno. / Be well. Raise hell. 

Andrew Barbano is a 44-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.

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