ORLANDO, Fla. - Eyewitness News poured through hundreds of documents Tuesday released from the city of Orlando and fire department regarding the Pulse nightclub shooting.
On May 21, Orlando firefighters performed an exit check at Pulse nightclub. The checks are done to make sure exits are not blocked, and are clearly marked in case of an emergency.
Firefighters during this check found an exit door or hardware was “inoperable,” according to the newly released documents. A fire extinguisher was not hanging either, the documents said. But on Tuesday the fire department reversed course.
Document 1: Pulse planning permit document
The attorneys for the owners of the Pulse nightclub released a statement on Tuesday also disputing the fire department’s account.
"On May 21, 2016, the Orlando Fire Department inspected the club and found that an exit sign light bulb needed to be replaced, and that a fire extinguisher needed to be hung on the wall, both of which items were corrected. The lack of specificity and clarity in the fire department’s report is regretful.”
“As for the allegation that a public exit door was blocked, that is untrue. The club has six exit doors, which exceeds the applicable code requirements. None of those six exit doors were blocked. There is a door to the outside that is not used by anyone, whether they be employees or patrons. That door is in a room behind the bar where patrons are not allowed. That door is not an exit door."
It was after this statement was released Tuesday that the city said a mistake was made and that the wrong box was checked during a survey. This new development contradicts a string of e-mails released Tuesday between Orlando Fire Marshal Tammy Hughes and Orlando Fire Chief Roderick Williams. In those emails, they discuss a door being blocked at the club.
Hughes and Williams discussed the exit check just 14 hours after the shooting, according to the emails.
Hughes acknowledged her office received the survey from May 21st noting an exit was blocked, but a fire inspector wasn't due to follow up until sometime in June, which is within the normal follow-up process, according to documents.
Document 2: Pulse planning document
City fire officials are not disputing a history of fire and safety issues at Pulse noted in e-mails and fire inspections, dating back to at least 2007. It was then that an Orlando Police officer raised concerns about what they called "frequent overcrowding" at Pulse.
In 2009, records showed the club was warned to make sure all exits are unlocked. In 2011, a fire inspection found two north-side exits were blocked with tables and liquor bottles. Management was warned again to keep exits clear.
Eyewitness News found in the documents, the owner was repeatedly warned between 2009 up and until January of this year to use clickers to ensure accurate patron count to control occupancy.
The city said in a statement late Tuesday, “We have no indication that exits were blocked. OFD conducts regular “exit checks” to ensure businesses have the proper life safety measures in place. After a review of fire records, there is no pattern of exits being blocked inside Pulse, this includes the most recent exit check conducted on May 21, 2016.”
“The Fire Engineer who conducted the exit check reports there were zero life safety issues and two minor infractions: a fire extinguisher on the ground instead of hanging on the wall, which was immediately corrected, one exit sign was in need of battery for back-up power.”
No exits or aisles were obstructed, the doors were not locked and there were no improper locks on the exit doors, the city said.
If a life safety issue is identified, corrective action is immediately taken, the city said.
For an establishment with the size and use of Pulse, city code would require 2 exits, Pulse had 5 exits to the outside, the city said.
The city said it’s unclear how many people were inside the Pulse nightclub when the shooting started, but initial reports estimated around 300 people.
According to the city, the nightclub’s occupancy is 300 people and based on the fire department’s records, Pulse’s occupancy levels were generally in compliance. When firefighters conduct checks and inspections, occupancy levels are checked every time. Recent records indicate there was not a pattern of being over capacity.
Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others June 12 as Pulse nightclub was closing.
Contact Daralene Jones for more on this story.
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