SAFETY FIRST AT KEY WEST DOUBLETREE

Arecent carbon monoxide poisoning fatality at a Key West hotel has led to state legislation likely to make all Florida hotels safer. In addition, the Doubletree Grand Key Resort, where 26-year-old Michigan resident Thomas Lueders died Dec. 27, is now the safest in the state, claims Tony Dzianott, operations director for Heartland Hotel Corp., the Dallas firm that manages the property.

A state investigation released in May concluded that the fourth-floor boilers were not property maintained and the exhaust ventilation system on the property's roof didn't meet city code, state law or the manufacturer's specifications. Nevertheless, the state declined to prosecute, saying the “mistakes” didn't add up to criminality.

Meanwhile, two civil lawsuits — and more than two dozen others said to be pending in connection with the incident in which Lueders died and seven people were hospitalized — have been filed, according to Keys News, an online newspaper based in the Keys. Dzianott would not comment on the litigation.

This winter and spring, Heartland worked with the city of Key West and its fire officials to make the hotel safer, and Heartland has installed additional safety measures that go beyond the call of industry standards and state code. These include new, upgraded boilers on the roof. These feature stabilizers to guard against high winds. Other enhancements:

A new fire alarm system including public-area smoke detectors, heat detectors, CO detectors and alarms.

Carbon monoxide detectors in all areas with gas-fired appliances, such as housekeeping and boiler rooms. These detectors are hard-wired so the front desk and the city are notified in case of a carbon monoxide or fire event. This spring, the Florida Legislature passed a bill mandating carbon monoxide detectors in every room containing a boiler in all public lodging establishments.

“Business is coming back,” says Dzianott. “It's about 80 percent of what it was. We were closed until March 1.” Since the hotel reopened, it's been doing local business, which is typical once winter is over, he says. Local tourism offices have helped.

“We aren't ducking what happened,” Dzianott says. “We're able to say, ‘Yes, it happened, it was a terrible accident, but here's what we've done to ensure your hotel stay is safe.’”

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