Working the Anaheim Convention Center keeps fire inspector on his toes


As a fire inspector, Adam Graef sometimes has to play the “heavy” — like the time he was walking the floors of the Anaheim Convention Center and ran across bales of hay in a farm-themed booth.

The bales had not been coated in fire retardant, as required, says Graef, a good-natured fire inspector with Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

And the exhibitor was being cranky about removing them.

“How much will it cost me to keep the hay bales here?” the exhibitor asked Graef.

Graef, of course, didn’t bite.

So away went the hay.

As the full-time fire inspector for the Anaheim Convention Center and smaller meeting halls at six hotels in the Anaheim Resort District, Graef sometimes has to get strict with exhibitors who rent booths to sell their goods and services at the hundreds of conventions that roll through the city each year.

But it’s all for a critical purpose: insuring the safety of the throngs of people who regularly pore into and out of the Convention Center.

Adam Graef in May rotated to the three-year position of fire inspector attached to the Anaheim Convention Center and meeting rooms at six hotels in the Anaheim Resort District. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Adam Graef in May rotated to the three-year position of fire inspector attached to the Anaheim Convention Center and meeting rooms at six hotels in the Anaheim Resort District. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In carrying out his main duties at the Anaheim Convention Center — keeping aisles clear, making sure fire extinguishers and fire strobe lights aren’t blocked, and insuring that crowds can quickly and safely exit in the event of an emergency — Graef, 30, works closely with Richard Groscost, the ACC’s security and safety manager.

Groscost, 48, is a former police officer with the Irvine PD who manages a team of security specialists who work out of the Central Service Facilities building that most people who visit the ACC never see. The CSF building is tucked behind one of the ACC’s five exhibition halls.

From their recently upgraded Security Control Room, whose state-of-the-art surveillance includes hundreds of cameras throughout the interior and exterior of the ACC, Groscost and his team can monitor the facility 24/7 — one of the reasons why the ACC is one of the safest convention centers in the U.S.

The room, which is dominated by six large screens that comprise the “video wall,” even has an old-fashioned red “hotline” phone that is connected to a hard line in case the modern computer and telecommunications system fails.

From the Security Control Room, Groscost can control access throughout the ACC with the click of a keyboard and access police and fire immediately, should the need arise.

The main priority for Groscost and his team is to create a safe and secure environment for all visitors to the Convention Center. They also keep an eye on potential thieves or other miscreants. There has not been a serious crime at the Anaheim Convention Center since the facility opened in 1967. Most crimes that do occur are related to the occasional fight.

Retired Anaheim PD Sgt. Rick Martinez, the unofficial historian of the Anaheim PD, says the only major incident he recalls at the ACC was a ruckus in the early ‘70s when Grand Funk Railroad performed at the center.

Adam Graef Fire Inspector for the Anaheim Fire Department at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Adam Graef in the recently upgraded Security Control Room in the Central Service Facilities building at the Anaheim Convention Center. Photo by Steven Georges

“Our security is so good that we don’t allow crime here,” quips Groscost, whose past jobs in public safety include 13 years as an officer with the Irvine PD, director of public safety for the OC Fair & Event Center, and as a cop at Irvine Valley College.

At a major expo like NAMM, the annual gathering of the National Association of Music Merchants that attracts a throng of 96,000 over four days, making it the largest annual event at the ACC, Graef can expect to get in 10-15 miles of walking per day patrolling the aisles.

The lobby of the ACC alone spans a quarter of a mile, and the grounds of the ACC total 1.6 million square feet.

Besides the workout, Graef loves the variety of the mini-cities that come together in just a few days, only to blow out of town for the next convention spectacle.

“Everything’s constantly changing,” says Graef, an eight-year veteran of Anaheim Fire & Rescue who earlier this year rotated into the three-year ACC position. “It keeps me on my toes.”

Graef also is in charge of the ACC’s annual fire inspections.

On a recent rainy afternoon, Graef and Groscost toured a near-empty Hall A as workers on forklifts moved stuff into the 145,000-square-foot space for a five-day convention for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

With about 20,000 attendees, the ASHP expo is relatively small.

In about one week, the ACC will host, for the fourth time, the “White Wonderland” New Year’s Eve event, from 7 p.m. Dec. 31 to 2 a.m. Jan. 1.Events like these takes coordinated resources from the Convention Center, APD and Anaheim Fire, Groscost says.

Among Graef’s main duties on the day of White Wonderland will be to make sure that the event gets set up according to the approved plan and also to inspect pyrotechnics that will be used at the party.

Two fire inspectors will be on hand during the event to make sure the event goes smoothly and also to be on standby during the pyrotechnics show.

In May, Graef replaced Desiree Johannessen as Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s fire inspector for the Anaheim Convention Center and the six other hotel convention centers in the area. Anaheim Fire’s relationship with the ACC is so strong that Johnanssen was named as one of ACC’s employees of the month during her tenure.

Although Graef is mostly involved in the planning stages of conventions, he also makes sure to spend a lot of time roaming the aisles.

So make sure to keep those aisles clear.

And don’t try to harass him too much.