Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fire and Audience Safety in Nightclubs

I went to a nightclub / restaurant tonight to get a bite to eat, and they had me seated upstairs in a balcony area that overlooked the main level of the nightclub.  Just as I was getting ready to leave, I went to go down the staircase that I had originally come-up, only to find that it was blocked with a portable sign that read:  "Stairs Closed" hand-scrawled in chalk.

There were no other instructions, signs, arrows . . . nuttin!  And the  EXIT  sign above the 'closed' stairs was still illuminated, beckoning all to "come-hither".

I look over the railing back towards the bottom of the staircase, and I see that the club has cordoned-off what was the main entrance to the club, and a band is loading-in their stuff.  The usual junk is piled every which-way: drums, speakers, guitars, mic stands, road cases . . .

Huh?  I look again, a sure enough, my eyes are not fooling me, they have removed the host stand and they are using the main entrance to the club as the stageI can see the glowing red  EXIT  signs over the doors.  I look around upstairs and I do find another exit, although it's not well-marked. So this means that 1/2 the upper balcony audience may have to go down the other stairs, and 1/2 may have to find their way out through the adjacent bar area (again - the  EXIT  sign in the adjacent bar area is NOT visible from the show room balcony seating area).
Band Set-up in front of EXITs

Next, I go downstairs to get a better look.  Once there, I see that at the bottom of the 'closed' staircase (which ended right at one of the two front doors), they had amplifiers and junk stacked in the travel path.  So I look around some more.  To the other side of the other main entrance / exit door there was a doorway that went into a souvenir shop at the time I came in to dine.  The souvenir shop had another exit door to the street, but now it was closed-off and inaccessible.  I moved away from the band's makeshift performance area and I found a passage out to anther adjacent part of the bar, it has an  EXIT  sign, but the lamps are burned-out, and the passage is circuitous and poorly illuminated.

I follow that passage into the adjacent bar chamber, and I can see two possible egress routes.  One has a vestibule with another door leading to the outside, but the  EXIT  sign for this door is only visible to about 1/2 of the room, or less.  I walk closer to this exit door and gradually the overhanging soffit that forms the vestibule area around the door reveals that there is an  EXIT  sign above the door.  Mystery solved!

Final count:  One functional exterior EXIT from upstairs (sign not visible from the balcony audience area), Two functional exterior EXITS from downstairs (one of which the sign is mostly obscured, neither of which are visible from the central audience area for the make-shift stage).

This means that a space that had SIX exits during the day (a light density crowd, mostly people dining) when the Fire Marshal visited and there was a lot of outside light filling the space through the windows; and only had THREE working exits at  night  when the patrons are highly inebriated and more densely packed.   All this on a Friday night in a college town . . .

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