by Texas Homesteader ~
While traveling out of town to visit my aunt & uncle back in March of this year, RancherMan & I stopped into a very popular tourist restaurant, The Big Texan Steak Ranch. It’s a fun place with lots of energy and the food is delicious.
Oh and they’ll fill your growler with some of their specialty beers. You know RancherMan is all over that!
And their claim to fame is that if you can eat a whopping 72-oz steak with all the fixin’s in an hour you get your meal for free. (YIKES!) That challenge has been tried (and failed) many times. A few times someone’s actually been successful! (again, YIKES!) LOL
But as we were sitting at the table enjoying our meal I looked around the room. The dining room is semi-dimly lighted and tables are placed end-to-end in long rows.
But right there by our table was the fire exit. I was shocked to see it was blocked by all manner of table-bussing trash and castaways. There were chunky high chairs stacked so high in front of the fire extinguisher you’d have to don your Superman cape, fly over and somehow move them all just to get to it.
And the door itself was blocked with chairs, folding trays & menu trash. Wow. With the layout of this large dining room, this could be a disaster waiting to happen!
Contacting The Fire Marshal
So I took the above photo and immediately contacted the local Fire Marshal via email. I gave him the specifics such as the date & time we were visiting the restaurant. And I told him of the assumed blatant fire code violation we’d witnessed and attached my photo. A personal visit from the Fire Marshal’s office to the restaurant was requested.
My hope was that a Fire Marshal’s visit would create a little awareness. That the restaurant managers would take notice of this terrible negligent danger that could surely cause death should the unthinkable happen.
(I previously wrote a post about this and other public-location Fire Safety Issues if you’d like to read it too)
Anyway, I didn’t hear from the Fire Marshal for several days. So I contacted him and asked if he’d been able to inspect the restaurant. His response in part was as follows:
“I conducted an on-site inspection at the location and I spoke with one of the managers, [Manager’s Name]. I informed him of my concern and he and I walked the dining area together. At this time we were not able to identify any blocked exits. However, I showed him the photo that you sent to us and he stated that he would make sure that all exits remain unobstructed.”
Wow, was I ever glad I had taken that photo! By the time the Fire Marshal got around to visiting them, the mess was of course all cleaned up! I’m guessing the dining room is cleaned to ship-shape every night at closing. But the clutter probably accumulates as the dining-room day goes on.
I know the servers aren’t trying to do anything malicious. They’re just rushing around trying to move things out of their way during the dining rush hours.
But the managers really need to make sure all employees realize the importance of this life-&-death safety issue!
I’m all too aware of what happens in a fire panic situation. And I’m sadly all too aware of what happens when panicked people reach a blocked fire exit too. This issue is important and could be deadly!
Repeated Fire Exit-Blocking Infractions
Then in June we once again were traveling west to visit my aunt. RancherMan wanted to stop in & fill his growler with one of their delicious specialty beers to share with my uncle over the weekend.
While they were getting the growler filled, I slipped away. I went into the dining area expecting to be so proud of restaurant management & employees. I fully expected to see a cleared fire exit. That important lessons had been learned and employees had been educated.
But I was shocked to see that it was not cleared at all. Once again it was completely blocked! Since we weren’t dining on this occasion, I snapped a quick photo and hurriedly left the dining area so I wouldn’t be in the way of diners & servers.
Speaking To Restaurant Manager
At the front I asked to speak with a restaurant manger and a woman quickly came to speak with me. I told her that we had been in their restaurant back in March and had witnessed the fire exit being completely blocked.
I’d taken a photo and forwarded it to the Fire Marshal. He had visited the restaurant and spoken with a restaurant manager who stated the fire exit would from then on always remain clear.
But I told her the fire exit was once again blocked. She seemed to take offense and curtly blurted out “Well, the Fire Marshal never talked to ME!”
Nevertheless, the exit was indeed blocked and I requested it to be cleared immediately. She instructed a nearby employee to clear the debris. I thanked her for her assistance and left.
Contacting Fire Marshal Again
I figured the Fire Marshal would want to know that the restaurant was not fulfilling their promise to keep the emergency exits unobstructed.
But as I was downloading the photo I gasped. Now I’m not 100% sure I’m seeing what I *think* I see, especially with the glare from the adjoining area window. But is the emergency exit lever actually TIED CLOSED??
It looks to me like there is something knotted to the emergency door lever and the other end knotted to a spindle at the adjoining wall?
Oh no, surely that just can’t be!
I immediately sent this latest photo to the same Fire Marshal with specifics of date and time. Of course I asked him to note what appeared to be an emergency door tied shut. I sent that email off and once again waited eagerly for a response.
After several days when no response was received I requested an update. An email update was then promptly received from the Fire Marshal’s office which said, in part:
We are working on getting this violation resolved. Due to the legal bindings of this matter, I cannot provide you with any additional information at this time. However, I would like to reassure you that the […] Fire Marshal’s Office takes these violations seriously and will resolve the matter so that our community is safe.
‘Legal Bindings’? Now I don’t mean to be a nuisance, but I needed to know what this meant. So I begged for further information to the degree that they could legally divulge. A response came that said in part:
We have worked with the management team at the Big Texan to resolve this issue. I have personally inspected the site this afternoon and can confirm that they are not in violation at this time. We will continue to monitor this matter.
WHAT??!! Of course the obstructions had once again been cleared by the time the Fire Marshal visited them.
Again, I don’t want to be a nuisance. And I’m not just trying to get people in trouble. The Fire Marshal has been very helpful and followed up with personal visits to the restaurant. He has personally spoken to managers & showed them pictorial evidence of their infractions.
Managers Should Train Servers On Fire Safety!
Now I love this fun restaurant and their delicious food. But fire protection is incredibly important to me! I truly hope that the managers will take note now and make absolutely sure their servers are aware of the safety hazards of a blocked emergency exit.
So here’s my challenge to all of you: No matter where you are, if you see something – SAY SOMETHING!
Don’t be afraid to request that the server move that stack of highchairs that are blocking the the fire exit. Don’t be too embarrassed to tell the restaurant manager that the table they just set up for the party of 12 was moved right in front of the emergency exit door.
Someone’s life could depend on it. And it could be YOURS!
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This is infuriating! You are absolutely correct to push this matter. This situation is criminal. It doesn’t sound like the local fire marshal is taking this seriously. Have you considered contacting the state fire marshal? Have you considered contacting a local television station? I know you would like to avoid a big stink and are only trying to prevent a tragedy, but the matter isn’t being taken seriously by those in a position to do something about it. In fact, rather than thanking you, the restaurant manager got defensive and tried to deflect blame. Really??? It’s not a matter of placing blame, but it is the responsibility of the manager and ownership to ensure patron safety to the best of their abilities and comply with the law. I’m shocked that the restaurant and its employees can read a sign that says “Emergency Exit” or “Fire Exit” and then block it or even lock it. I don’t understand why it isn’t clicking with them that those exits are there to KEEP PEOPLE SUCH AS THEMSELVES FROM BURNING TO DEATH. Keep us posted. If the authorities do not respond to you this time, let us readers know if you believe it would be helpful for us to take some action to get this rectified. Thanks for watching out for the rest of us!
I think so too Miss B. Although I really feel the Fire Marshal is taking the complaint, visiting the establishment and when finding nothing out of order he’s showing my photo and letting them know it’s not OK. I think he’s doing his part, but I’m not sure their office has the ability to take a complaint and get up from their desk & head out right then. I think by the time he visits the restaurant everything’s been cleaned up, just as it probably is each & every night. It’s just the timing of it all. But his response to me this last time makes me believe that perhaps a little more bite is being put into this latest infraction (although that’s just my take on it). I fully expect to stop by for a visit in the next few weeks and see that emergency exit free & clear. I believe this last time may have put more importance on it with the managerial powers that be. One way or the other, you can bet your socks I’ll not let this issue slide. It’s too important to me! ~TxH~
Good for you for reporting this and not letting it go until it’s resolved! I’d hate to see a huge tragedy in the news someday. It sure does look like they tied the door shut on that picture.
It didn’t take much out of my time Shelley, and I’ve Seen The PICTURE! (see previous post linked & referenced in today’s post) It looks to me that the door is tied closed too, but I just can’t be sure. What I *CAN* be sure of is that chairs are once again stacked in front of safe exit in the case of emergency. That alone is reason to act. My hope is that awareness is created with our readers. If you see something, SAY SOMETHING! ~TxH~
I wonder if the fire marshall calls ahead to schedule the visit and, if so, does the restaurant “clean up” any violations before he/she arrives. Does the fire marshall know the owner of the restaurant and lets things slide (which I hope is not true as peoples lives are at stake). Is the fire marshall older and just trying to put his/her time in it happens. Our drain commissioner was like that til he finally got voted out after too many years of thinking he was invincible. I know my comments sound negative but this kind of stuff does happen. It will be interesting to see if you find the same violations next time you are in the area.
I suppose that could happen Pam, but I don’t get that impression at all. The Fire Marshal has always been open with me with what was seen upon his visit and the conversation had with managers. I think the Fire Marshal is doing exactly as he should be doing. I think the issue is that this clutter is not left overnight. When the dining room is cleaned, everything is put back in order – just like any restaurant. Apparently one manager was made aware and perhaps other managers were not schooled. Then in the rush of business again, the chairs get pushed aside into the only non-traffic area available – the fire exit. I think this is a case of servers not being made aware of exactly how important this is. And I think they probably will be now that there’s been more evidence of blockage. But I’ll be stopping by next time I’m in town. Be sure to subscribe to this post or my FB page, I’ll be sharing what I find at the next visit. I’m hoping (and expecting) the fire exit to be clear of debris! Fingers crossed. In the meantime, wherever you happen to be dining – please – If you see something, SAY SOMETHING! ~TxH~
Unbelievable! I’ve been there, that place gets so packed you can’t even turn around. That’s a nightmare waiting to happen.
You’re so right, Joe. It’s almost always packed since it’s a fun tourist destination. In a fire situation, this would have been a huge tragedy. Awareness is key! ~TxH~
WOW, that does look like they tired the door shut. That is worse than the chairs and highchairs being in the way. How would you ever move that in a hurry and if the lights go out you could not see that dark strap.
I wish the photo was better so I could tell for sure, Cynthia. But the chairs & clutter are so common with all dining establishments. It only takes one in the way to get stumbled upon in a fire-panic situation. Once the chair is down, the patron is down, the other panicked patrons stumble and they all pile up at the door until no one else can get through. Tragic! Yep, I’ve seen it time & time again during my time working in the fire protection field. These servers aren’t trying to do anything malicious, it’s a handy out-of-the-way place to throw that unused high chair. Without awareness no one even thinks about it – not even the diners! My hope with this post is to create awareness. Maybe next time someone will notice & say something to the manager. Maybe over time lots of people will say something and the managers will become aware it’s against code and a huge fire-safety issue. If you see something, SAY something! Awareness is key. ~TxH~
I used to work in a big box store and we had OSHA come in and inspect there and also the fire marshall would inspect. One time when OSHA was inspecting, a customer has left a cart in front of the fire exit when they used the nearby restroom. We got fined for that. We were very upset about being fined for something a customer had done and management said to keep watch for carts left by customers and moved them from in front of doors. I don’t know how OSHA decides which businesses to visit. The restaurant might be too small, but you might send them a copy of you information. If your family lives close enough they could go in and see if this has been corrected then you could feel easier about it.
I can totally see the frustration by a big-box store over being fined over something that a customer did. And even though in this case it was not their fault, OSHA’s right – it’s still a huge fire-safety issue. Perhaps the almost unjustified penalty’s sting will have the higher ups telling all staff that by golly if you see a cart or package placed here by a customer, stop right then and move it because we could get fined again. Again, awareness is key so if nothing else, hopefully it at least created that important awareness. ~TxH~