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Volume 20 No. 41
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How Staples Center kept its cool when it counted

Lee Zeidman has experienced about every situation imaginable during his 29 years as an arena manager. One of his most stressful moments came during the 2002 NHL All-Star Game at Staples Center, the facility he’s run since it opened in 1999 as the home of the Los Angeles Kings.

“We’re hosting the All-Star Game, and were very excited,” said Zeidman, president of Staples Center, AEG’s flagship arena. “We were in our third season and all the NHL team owners are in the building. We really spruced it up as it relates to all the entertainment and showcasing the building.”

Everything ran smoothly up to the point when recording artist Jewel was about to sing the national anthem. Suddenly the arena’s command center and fire control room began receiving alarms, set off by smoke detectors triggered by a concessions worker on the upper concourse trying to warm four packs of hot dog buns in a cooler about twice the size of an Igloo Playmate
The worker lit two Sterno cans on both ends of the cooler and the buns and wrappers caught fire, which set off the first smoke alarm. The worker panicked, and rather than grabbing a fire extinguisher, he put the burning cooler on a cart and ran all the way around the upper concourse to a public elevator. More smoke alarms went off as he loaded the cart on the elevator and it descended to the service level. At that point, the worker ran out of the elevator, through the loading dock and tossed the burning cooler onto a ramp.

As Jewel sang at the 2002 All-Star Game, few knew what was going on back of house.

The arena’s emergency system is designed to allow time for officials to investigate and troubleshoot the cause, then mute and reset the fire alarm system to prevent the primary alarms from being activated. Quick work by the arena’s engineering and security staffs resolved the issue without the crowd hearing public alarms, Zeidman said.

The system did its job as designed and the All-Star Game was never in jeopardy of being canceled, Zeidman said.

“We received calls about the [cooler] immediately but had to wait for it to get down all floors in the elevator,” he said. “The smoke wasn’t visible to a certain extent to where you could see it in the bowl and the suites, but it had risen to the point where we had to physically go and clear those alarms.”

Zeidman played a key role for deactivating the emergency system. For the 2 1/2 hours it took to play the All-Star Game, he sat in the arena’s command center to ensure every alarm was silenced.

“All I did was sit there and push a button while our guys cleared everything,” Zeidman said. “Nobody ever knew this happened except for our staff. The NHL did not know because we took care of the problem, but it took that long to clear all the alarm activations throughout the building.”

After the event, arena officials retrained food service employees on the proper use of food containers and stressed the importance of fire safety while reinforcing the locations of fire extinguishers. In one respect, the incident became a training exercise for the food and beverage operation, he said.

“We’re a lot smarter now,” Zeidman said.