In a tower of the shuttered Riviera, a haze of smoke hangs in the air. Hotel room doors hang open, telephones and pillows are strewn amid broken glass. Somewhere in the distance, an alarm wails as a crew of firefighters in heavy gear stomp down the hallway to … lunch.
“We’ve got more than 300 firefighters here, from as far away as Connecticut and Hawaii,” says Joe Geeb, a fire captain with the Clark County Fire Department and event coordinator for the Best Damn Fire Conference. Since the Riviera closed, it has been used as a training site by a number of organizations, including gaming control, Metro, the Navy and the Secret Service.
“This type of conference in this type of building does not happen anywhere else, in a hotel as big as the Riviera on the Las Vegas Strip,” Geeb says. “We have instructors from all over the country who are experts in various fields—forcible entry, hydraulics, command and leadership in general.” All over the property, fire companies from Alameda, California, and Kansas City are breaking down doors, busting through walls and wrestling with firehoses.
“Organizations began coming in around June,” says Ray Suppe, director of security for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns the property. “We’ve had local, state and federal organizations train here.” He agrees that the Riviera gives public safety agencies “a good opportunity to turn real-life spaces into real-life scenarios.” He notes that the FBI recently did a “large-scale exercise involving local law enforcement and fire departments to work an active-shooter drill. They brought in about 300 students from Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy to play civilians.” Many of the students are working toward careers in public safety, and “they had a blast,” Suppe says.
Perhaps one day some of those students will join Geeb and his crew in the CCFD, but they’ll probably never get a chance to train at a place like the Riviera. “It’s an amazing opportunity to get in there and fine-tune things and get information from people all over the county,” Geeb says. “We want to become the best and most efficient, and having a conference like this will lead to that.”