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Who enforces crowd limit rules in bars at night, and are they actively doing so?

Adam Wagner
StarNews
The Barbary Coast on New Year's Eve 2013. StarNews photo by Si Cantwell.

The Barbary Coast on New Year’s Eve 2013. StarNews photo by Si Cantwell.

Q. Who enforces crowd limit rules in bars at night, and are they actively doing so or just waiting until a complaint comes in. WPD, Wilmington Fire, ALE? Do they have a separate crowd limit for each establishment, and how do they decide those?

A. In Wilmington, the fire department’s Fire Marshal’s office enforces crowd limits, according to David Hines, a fire department spokesman.

The Fire Marshal performs random occupancy checks monthly, said WFD Battalion Chief Sammy Flowers. Flowers added that during large events, such as Azalea Festival and Riverfest, the Wilmington Police Department and N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement will assist with the occupancy checks.

If there is a complaint about overcrowding at a given establishment, Hines said, one of the department’s five inspectors will often respond by conducting a check there.

On a given night of random checks for overcrowding, inspectors visit between 15 and 20 establishments, Flowers said.

When inspectors arrive to check an establishment, the operators are responsible for knowing how many customers are there and giving the inspector that information, Hines said.

“If the inspector believes the occupancy is overcrowded even though their numbers may indicate otherwise, he/she can demand that they either not allow anyone else to enter until so many leave or they could force the occupancy to empty and then allow re-entry of only the allowed amount,” Hines said, adding emptying the establishment would be a last-resort option.

Furthermore, if the inspector believes an establishment is overcrowded, he has the power to fine it. A fine for overcrowding is $100 per person over the set occupancy.

To determine what the maximum occupancy of an establishment is, inspectors use a formula in building and fire codes based on exits, seat and square footage, Hines said. After the occupancy is determined, it has to be placed on a placard in plain sight.

To file a complaint about overcrowding, citizens can call the WFD at 910-343-0696 or go to www.wilmingtonnc.gov, go to the Fire Department page, click on Contact the WFD, scroll to the Fire and Life Safety Division and click on Sammy Flowers to send him an email. All complaints will be kept confidential, Flowers said.

RELATED LINKS:

Which Wilmington-area bars allow well-behaved dogs?

Is it illegal to perform loud music in bars/restaurants adjoining residential areas after 10 at night?

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