By Billy Corriher
The first fire code violators from the Clayton County Fire Department's surprise inspections last month appeared before the county's Code Enforcement Board on Tuesday.
In December, the department began inspecting businesses that serve alcohol during their busiest hours in the evening. Two restaurants were cited with violations, even though businesses were warned that surprise inspections were starting, said Deputy Chief Jeff Scarbrough, head of the department's fire prevention division.
"We're checking for overcrowding and locked or blocked exits," Scarbrough said.
The code enforcement board heard the case of David Brier from the Irish Bred Pub & Grill, which the department cited for not posting its occupancy limit.
Brier told the board the violation was "rectified immediately, on the spot."
But Garfield Bright, Sr., chairman of the board, still imposed the recommended $100 fine for failing to post an occupancy limit. Bright urged Brier to "keep a good, keen eye on those things that relate to safety."
The board also fined Jung Tak of Sports Caf? $500 for blocking a fire exit.
Sgt. Dwayne Jackson, one of the department's inspectors, testified that Tak had been warned about the violation three times in the past but was still in violation for the same exit last month.
"We have a zero tolerance for (blocking a fire exit), whether it's the first time or the third time," Bright said.
Scarbrough said one reason for the surprise inspections is that many fire code violators would correct the problem temporarily while inspectors were there, but when inspectors returned, the business was again in violation.
"We've got to get people to pay attention," he said.
Scarbrough said the county wanted to get stricter with occupancy limits and fire exits after the deadly fire at The Station in Rhode Island last February.
"Rhode Island brought a lot of focus to the issue," he said, adding that deadly fires in nightclubs are not uncommon.
Lt. Tony Duck, another inspector, said it is especially important to check for fire code violations at businesses that serve alcohol.
"We're hitting all the businesses that serve alcohol, where the patrons are in an altered state of consciousness," he said.
Scarbrough said the department is focusing its surprise inspections on 52 establishments, most of which serve alcohol and can hold more than 100 people.