52 Years Later, A Hero Remembers The Hotel Golden Fire

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RENO, NV - Today, the block on North Center Street, between Second Street and Commercial Row is occupied by what might be regarded as Reno's first modern hotel, Harrah's.

But in 1962 it was the site of the Hotel Golden and it's where 95 year old Paul Gallo went to work every day as a security officer.

"All I can say is it was one of the nicest places in Reno at the time," says Gallo..
The Golden had actually been built in 1905, but in the 50's the four story brick building got a cosmetic face lift, exterior panels with metal louvers over the windows.

City officials raised objections to the louvers, but there was no building code prohibiting them.

The morning of April 3, an engineer was working with a welding torch in the basement. The rig tipped over starting a fire.

"I was sitting at the snack bar and smelled smoke. So, I told the pit boss I was going downstairs to check it out."

He found the torch still lit. Even worse, it had burned some wood nearby..

As the first firemen arrived, Gallo went upstairs.

"I told the firemen that I would go and start to evacuate. I went floor to floor, room to room, telling people. I led some of them to the stairwell."

It was the only way to handle the evacuation.

There were about 140 guests staying in rooms in the four-story hotel and none of today's central alarms. Hotel staff began calling each room, One guest learned of the fire when she called the hotel desk to check on the time.

Then the switchboard went out.

The fire accelerated, filling the hotel with smoke. And those louvers covering the windows were proving an obstacle to getting people out and getting water on the fire.

Construction equipment was brought in to help yank them free.

Slowly people were being brought out.

Gallo says he stepped outside to catch his breath for a moment, started to go back in. A supervisor tried to stop him saying the smoke was too thick.

"I said I know," I want to continue to evacuate people."

He was on the second floor looking for guests when he heard a woman screaming two floors up. Encountering Reno fireman Smokey Davidson the pair decided to grope their way two floors up to the woman's room.

He couldn't see inside, but knew the layout of the room and worked his way over to the window where she had been screaming.

"I kind of tripped over her and I yelled to Smokey ' She's here' and we put her on my shoulders and took her out."

And they made their way out the only way they could, through a fire escape on the west side of the building.

The woman, a visitor from Salinas, and Gallo were taken by ambulance to Washoe Medical Center.

They were among the 40 people treated that day. Six others were not so lucky, dying in the flames, the last was discovered weeks after the fire.

Gallo says the woman had fought to save would die much later of her injuries. He remained in the hospital for months with respiratory and back injuries.

There was little firefighters could do to save the Golden itself. Everything, including a drop from a tanker plane, was tried. The old building came down, 52 years ago today.

Sadly, the Golden was not Reno's last fatal hotel fire. Halloween night 2006, on Lake Street just a block away from where it burned 12 died here at the Mizpah Hotel.

A monument marks the site of the Mizpah. It bears the names of its victims. Over on Center Street here's nothing to memorialize those who lost their lives in the Golden fire, but they are never far from Paul Gallo's thoughts.

"Whenever I see on TV that there's been a fire, this all comes back to me. I remember it as if it were yesterday."