Four packed bars were issued citations over the Halloween weekend due to fire safety concerns. Some were emptied so fire code officials could count the number of people going back into the bar. Other bars or restaurants unable to control the crowds or address other fire concerns were closed for the night.
But Tom Scholtens, the city's chief codes enforcer, says that bar and restaurant owners have gotten the message after 18 months of heightened enforcement. Inspectors have been heading out with officers — sometimes three and four times a week — counting the number of people in bars to make sure they're not violating legal limits and checking to make sure emergency exits are illuminated, unlocked, and easily accessible.
"Many bar owners are getting it and working diligently to comply with the law," he says. That work includes developing crowd management plans that put individual employees in charge of clearing sections of the bar so the venue is emptied quickly in an emergency.
The problems over Halloween weekend involved blocked exists or gross overcrowding.
"Some bars (legally limited to a small number of patrons) took it upon themselves and said, 'It's a great time for a party,'" Scholtens says.
Scholtens says the city is considering a new special events permit so that there is a uniform procedure that's easy for bar owners to follow for big events.
"We want people to have fun, but we want people to comply with the law," he says. —Greg Hambrick