Jonah Kaplan, KSPR News
4:59 PM CST, February 11, 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Mo -- Fresh off a Mardi Gras pub crawl downtown, Springfield firefighters say they're worried about overcrowding at bars and clubs - and they admit they're not doing much to stop it.
The city won't pay the overtime to send fire marshals downtown to patrol. When they are downtown, they're not writing any tickets for violations.
After a fire at a Brazil nightclub killed more than 200, the City of Springfield took the initiative to assert the state of Springfield's public safety. In a release sent to KSPR News, the city said fire marshals regurlarly inspect high occupancy structures.
That's true, but Asst. Fire Chief Randy Villines says it doesn't tell the whole story: firefighters inspect the exits and sprinklers, not the crowds.
The city can only afford to send fire marshals out for major events like pub crawls - eight to ten nights year.
"Do we need to go out every night? Potentially," Villines tells KSPR News. "It's one of those things - what can we do if we can't get out there. One thing is educating the bar owners into having crowd managers. Fire code allows us to mandate crowd managers."
The problems extend beyond downtown, too. Fire officials say they've had issues at Midnight Rodeo, Cartoons and Tier 3.
When they are downtown, the fire marshals aren't writing any tickets; none in at least six years.
Willines says the reason for that is because there is a desire not to hurt businesses downtown and would rather just want to manage the crowds.
The fire chief says regular firefighters on duty cannot regulate overcrowding. They don't have the proper training nor do they have the authority to issue tickets.
The fire marshals plan to ask the city to require new permits for business owners downtown; the fees collected would pay for fire marshals to patrol overcrowding on a more consistent basis.
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