It's hard to believe that St. Patrick's Day is just a little over a month away. WTOC tagged along with Savannah Fire Marshal Craig Landolt on Wednesday as he and his crew made sure the city's bars and restaurants are ready.
Massive crowds turned out for St Patrick's Day 2012 -- 1 million people according to organizers' unofficial estimates. Just as big of a crowd is expected this year, since the fun and festivities are once again falling on a weekend.
But when hundreds of people crowd into one place, firefighters have to make sure they can get out. The last thing anyone wants to see is the situation like nightclub fire that killed 233 people in Brazil last month.
"What we don't want is a situation where we have customers packed on the outside trying to get in and in the event of an emergency, customers packed on the inside trying to get out and they collide at one point, which is the door, and there's a problem," Landolt said.
In the two and a half months leading up to St Patrick's Day, Savannah's fire marshal and his inspectors go into every single bar, restaurant and hotel in the downtown festival zone to make sure they are following the law. And they'll be out again on the holiday to keep bars from getting too crowded.
"If I think we have an unusual number of people in the building, let's turn the lights up, turn the music off, and get everybody outside," Landolt said.
Nearly 10 years after another deadly fire -- when 100 people died at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island on Feb. 20, 2003 -- Georgia is toughening its fire laws.
Those changes won't come until after St Patrick's Day. But Landolt says that in the 18 years he's been inspecting businesses, no one has been seriously hurt in a fire or in a stampede at a bar or club. He's hoping for the best this year. And so are businesses.
"Last year was a huge success for us as far as the amount of people we had," Fiddlers Crab House manager Jared Wilderman said. "Considering that, everything was pretty calm on our end of the street."