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Overcrowding in downtown Delray Beach forces firefighters to crack down

Posted at 11:03 AM, Apr 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-19 18:09:36-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — The nightlife in downtown Delray Beach is seeing changes.

Since the start of April, Delray Beach Fire Rescue has been stationed outside different restaurants and bars that have violated city codes. The biggest violation is overcrowding.

Until further notice, Acting City Manager Neil de Jesus said nine businesses will have a fire marshal or firefighter at an exit, counting the number of people coming in and out.

It comes after Fire Rescue spent months working with businesses, but had no success in getting them to comply.

"They were not only exceeding that occupant load, but by hundreds," said de Jesus.

The issues boil down to safety, according to Fire Rescue officials. Neil de Jesus said when restaurants are over capacity, the people inside are not safe.

"I can tell you I have been in every one of them in the last four months," said de Jesus. "There is no way for everybody who is in there to get out in case of an emergency without getting injured or killed."

During the first weekend fire crews were out counting occupancy, one bar was over capacity by 200 people. The OG is licensed for 59 people, but Fire Rescue said it counted 267 people inside the business and shut it down for the evening.

These new actions will create lines outside bars, but de Jesus said it's the only way to keep people safe.

Fire Rescue officials said if businesses don't comply, they will be shut down.

The owner of Johnnie Brown’s said he's working with the city and Fire Rescue to comply.

"We try and be a good neighbor, so what it has done for us is take a closer look at what we are doing to make sure we are in compliance," said Bruce McDonald.

The city is citing restaurants that turn into bars by moving chairs and tables. So far in April, city officials have written six citations.

The fire department is requiring all businesses to hire a crowd manager by Friday night.

"We will not go through this cycle again, we will most likely remove their license," said de Jesus.

The owners of Salt 7 and Tin Roof said they are working to comply with the city.