Over crowded bars concern for fire department

March 10, 2012 12:59:09 AM PST
Many Friday and Saturday nights, bars and nightclubs around the Bay Area are packed. But in some cases they are too packed and therefore dangerous. The question is, why isn't something done about it?

The San Francisco Fire Department monitors what they call "places of assembly" -- large dance clubs, music halls, theaters. The small bars and clubs that have one exit are limited to 49 customers. They're inspected at the start of business and fly under the radar after that.

Valencia Street has become a very popular club and bar scene. Many of these bars have a stated capacity of 49 allowed by the San Francisco Fire Department. One bar on Friday night was at capacity at 8 p.m. By 9:30 p.m. there were more than 100 people inside.

The crowds don't seem to bother most patrons.

"If it's too crowded we'll probably just go somewhere else but it's never been to the point where I feel like I'm in danger or something like that," Kristin Viera said.

This kind of overcrowding may be great for these small bars and clubs, but the San Francisco Fire Department sees overcrowding as a dangerous fire hazard.

"If they only have one exit, it doesn't matter how big the space is, they are limited to 49,"Lt. Mary Tse said.

The problem is there are no regular inspections of the small clubs. Unless there is a complaint, they rely on the good sense of business owners to manage capacity and the safety of their customers.

"We'll move them in as people come back out, so that's how we keep our capacity pretty steady for fire hazards and stuff like that," Puerto Alegre owner Lorenzo Vigil said.

Tse says that the fire department has regular inspections of the larger venues. The department is thinking of placing the smaller clubs and bars on that inspection list as well.


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