State fire marshal's office ramping up business compliance checks
BATON ROUGE – After Governor John Bel Edwards indicated that he wanted to see more law enforcement agencies enforcing guidleines amid the spike in coronavirus cases, the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal adjusted schedules.
“Our deputies across the state are going out every day, every night, and we've expanded our shifts to do what we're calling these 'courtesy visits,'” Public Affairs Director of the State Fire Marshal’s Office Ashley Rodrigue said.
Previously, the agency was only checking up on businesses they received complaints about. Now, deputies are walking into a variety of stores to make sure employees are wearing masks, there isn’t a large crowd and there’s six feet of spacing in lines.
“As well as seeing if they have hand sanitizer in a couple of places, they have cleaning solution that meets the recommendations and that it's being used each time on the tables and chairs,” Rodrigue said.
In less than an hour on Wednesday, one fire marshal deputy visited three businesses in the Town Center at Cedar Lodge. Rodrigue said only one employee needed to be reminded to wear a mask.
“Most of the time, we have found that people have been uniformed or just lax for a second. The important thing for everyone to know is that this virus is serious, and this virus does not take breaks. So we have to do everything we can,” Rodrigue said. “If we're told this is the best way to decrease the spread, then we're doing it every time, all the time."
Typically only one visit to a business is needed but not all the time.
“If we come across a place that has a lot of problems, we're going to let them know these are the problems and you need to fix them right now. Then in our system we're going to put in that we need to revisit in two days to make sure they got it,” Rodrigue said.
If a business is not complying, Rodrigue says state fire marshal deputies can write a citation, which is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $500 and six months in jail. Or they can issue a cease and desist shutting down a business. The agency has not had to do that yet.
Louisiana is in phase two of re-opening, which limits restaurants to 50-percent capacity and bars to 25-percent capacity. It will stay that way likely until the end of July.
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