PORTLAND -- After a deadly fire in Southern Brazil took the life of more than 200 people Saturday, Portland firefighters explained which hazards they're generally trying to spot during their daily safety checks of local businesses, restaurants and bars.
Portland Fire Bureau inspectors look for sprinkler systems, exit signs that operate even if the power goes out, and exit doors that open to the outside.
There were 17 businesses cited with gross violations from Jan. 28, 2012 through Monday. Citations were for exit violations (blocking an exit, chained doors, etc... ) and for overcrowding. Fines totaled $27,000, the bureau said.
Most were issued because the problems went beyond simple violations, or the businesses had been previously warned.
"We really do take enforcement very seriously," said Lt. Rich Chatman with Portland Fire & Rescue.
Aside from regularly-scheduled code inspections, a special group of inspectors arrives unannounced during operating hours in places that draw larger crowds, to make sure safety rules are being followed.
"We get really good compliance. Those inspectors have the authority to shut those businesses down on site if they feel there is a big enough safety threat," Chatman said.
Kells Irish Pub draws several thousand people on St. Patrick's Day.
"We do have two to three thousand people around the building at one time," said Kells owner Gerard McAleese. "That's when we have our security team, and our security knows where the fire exits are and where the fire extinguishers are."
"Most people that come into a public building don't recognize that we have sprinklers, we have fire exits and there are signs up. Some of the bars you go to are like fire traps, really, you've got a lot of skinny corridors," said McAleese. "We are very blessed with two exit doors, and they open out to the street. At the backside of the building, all the doors open outwards. The bottom line for us is: Safety first and then you make your dollar."
Chatman said no matter what bar or nightclub you're in, as a patron you can empower yourself.
"As you travel throughout the building, make sure that when you're on one end of a building, you know where that exit is or the closest exit is," he said.
Also, if it looks like there are too many people inside a building and it makes you feel unsafe, leave immediately.
"We encourage people to be aware of their surroundings and be aware of their own safety," Chatman said.