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Fire safety failures at State Farm Stadium, home of Super Bowl LVII

What will stadium managers do to improve fire safety before Super Bowl?
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Posted at 9:10 AM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 01:36:56-04

GLENDALE, AZ — Glendale’s State Farm Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl this winter, has a streak of failures when it comes to fire safety.

The 63,000-seat stadium in Glendale is the home turf for the Arizona Cardinals.

The stadium’s general manager says he’s now making changes in an effort to stop repeat violations.

Before a single ticketholder walks through the concourse for any event, inspectors from the Arizona Office of the State Fire Marshal check out the stadium’s systems and set up to help ensure occupant safety.

The inspectors also do annual inspections.

“This stadium is inspected probably more than any other NFL stadium in the country,” said State Farm Stadium General Manager Andy Gorchov.

“We kind of view it, at times, it's been one of the safer buildings in Arizona because we're in there so often,” said State Fire Marshal Cassie Peters.

However, the building also failed 87 out of 190 fire code inspections in the last 5 years, according to reports released to ABC15 through a public records request. That’s a 46% percent failure rate.

“I wouldn't say it's an okay number,” said Peters. “But that is not unusual.”

Fire Marshal Peters said just one fire code violation results in a failed inspection, but when the ABC15 investigators checked, nearly all State Farm Stadium’s failed inspections had multiple violations. In some cases, more than 20 violations were cited in one day.

Problems ranged from fire alarm troubles to blocked exit doors and fire lanes, to improperly located fire extinguishers, to a missing fire safety plan.

Arizona’s fire code requires most violations to be fixed within 10 days, but Peters and Gorchov admit that doesn’t always happen.

“I think that you don't want anything to sit idle for any length of time unnecessarily,” Gorchov said. “Sometimes it takes some time for materials to be ordered or for a vendor to be scheduled to come in.”

ABC15 consulted fire code experts across the country who said stadium egress violations are the most concerning.

“When there's an emergency, bad things happen really quick,” said Butch Browning with the National Association of State Fire Marshals. “An arc, an electrical socket that produces maybe a small fire or small amount of smoke, can cause a tremendous panic when you have people in buildings that have to get out.”

State Farm Stadium was written up dozens of times for egress issues including in the Brew Haus food area. The exit pathways were not clear for the entire last football season.

“That is fixed,” Gorchov said. He said he did not know why it took months to take down panels that were blocking the exit pathway.

The fire alarm system itself also racked up violations.

The ABC15 Investigators found dozens of reports showing trouble codes, the system operating in a “test” mode, or other issues where it was not fully operational.

When asked about the violations, Gorchov said, “The system is not broken; the system works perfectly.”

When asked to clarify, Gorchov said “what the violations that are documented is that there are system troubles basically is what they're referred to.”

At one point, a third-party fire alarm maintenance company even tagged the alarm system as non-compliant, and state inspectors noted the tagged system on their reports for more than a year.

During ABC15’s interview with Gorchov in early September, he showed us a certification document saying the alarm was inspected and was in compliance with fire standards in August 2022.

Fire prevention and preparedness are especially top of mind after Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High caught fire in March. It took firefighters 45 minutes to arrive and douse all the burning seats, and 100 people in the building had to be evacuated.

When asked about concerns about fan safety if fire code violations don’t get fixed promptly, Gorchov said, “The intention and the expectation is that anything that's documented on an inspection report is addressed as quickly as possible, and that's our goal.”

Fire Marshal Peters says he prefers an educational approach and has not tried to fine the stadium or prevent the occupancy of the building.

“The violations that you've seen on the inspection reports does not meet that criteria,” Peters said, adding it is “incumbent upon them to take the action to fix it.”

“We are constantly working to improve response times on issues that arise in inspections,” Gorchov said. “Safety is our No. 1 priority at State Farm Stadium.” He added they now call their fire alarm maintenance company ASAP after problems are detected instead of waiting for preset appointment times.

ABC15 also asked why the stadium staff isn’t more proactive about detecting fire hazards and correcting them earlier, especially with the Super Bowl coming.

“One of the things that I think is really important for us to do is, as you mentioned before, instead of waiting for the fire inspection,” Gorchov said, “is to do our own internal assessments and inspections with our staff, so that we can catch these kinds of easily rectified items before the formal inspection is conducted.”

ABC15 will be checking back with the Office of the State Fire Marshal and State Farm Stadium by the end of the year to see if the stadium’s changes result in better inspection outcomes.

The ABC15 Investigators also requested fire inspection reports for other big sporting and concert venues in the Valley including Chase Field and Glendale’s Gila River Arena.

Future ABC15 stories will show how they performed on the reports.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.