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Wendy Reuer, Published December 26 2013

Bar benefits from officials’ Christmas spirit

MOORHEAD – Mick’s Office was shown a little Christmas spirit Wednesday when the bar received only verbal warnings from police and fire officials who found the establishment was likely overcapacity and in violation of a fire code on one of its busiest nights.

When police were called to Mick’s Office at 10 8th Street for an unrelated matter, the responding officers noticed that the crowded bar was likely at or over its capacity and asked the fire department to check in, said police Sgt. Rob Matheson.

“We have to look at what is best for the people there,” he said.

Staff did not have a head count of the number of people in the bar, which has a capacity of about 264, said Fire Chief Rich Duysen.

With everyone packed inside, a valid head count was unavailable, so a fire captain asked patrons to exit the bar then return through the doors to be counted. The captain counted about 250, although some customers chose to leave instead of return from outside, Duysen said.

The process took no more than a half-hour.

While at the bar, officials also found a potentially serious fire code violation: an exit door from a smoking area had been wired shut.

Duysen said the door was a concern to fire officials because if there was a fire in the building, people in the smoking area would have been forced to try to exit by going back inside the main building.

“They corrected the situation on the spot,” Duysen said.

While the potential violations could have been forwarded to the county attorney for consideration of misdemeanor charges or fire officials could have cited Mick’s owners with city administration fines of $100 per violation, officials chose to only issue a verbal warning to Mick’s Office staff.

Moorhead bars often see an influx in business during the Christmas holiday when North Dakota state law prohibits alcohol from being sold after 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and all day on Christmas Day in Fargo and West Fargo.

“This has been a problem in the past,” Duysen said. “It’s really the responsibility of the bar to be counting and once they get busy to start counting.”

Overcrowding of a business can be a serious fire hazard, Duysen said. He pointed to the notorious 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in which 464 people crowded into a Rhode Island bar with the capacity of 404. A fire broke out and many were not able to escape the blocked exits. One hundred people were killed and another 230 were injured in what is considered the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in history.

“(Mick’s Office) is a non-sprinklered bar about that size,” Duysen said. “Also, once they hit their occupant load, people can’t move around very much.”

The owner of Mick’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530