Local News

Wake County Courtrooms Violate Fire Codes

Posted March 29, 2005 5:44 a.m. EST

— There may be a lot of people standing against the wall in a Wake County Courtroom, but one thing you won't find on the wall is a fire code sign listing the maximum occupancy.

In response to a complaint, the Raleigh Fire Department inspected the courthouse on March 14th.

Inspectors found 26 violations -- some minor and some serious. The serious violations included missing occupancy signs in six courtrooms as well as overcrowding.

"When you put more people in an area than it can safely hold, certainly the danger to the occupants increases," Chief Earl Fowler of the Raleigh Fire Department said.

State senators who have visited the courthouse have seen the problem firsthand.

"There's some danger in having this many people on this floor and being able to evacuate them, if there were a need to do it," Sen. Vernon Malone (D-Wake) said.

Dave Goodwin, Wake County services manager, said the courthouse does have "periodic overcrowding."

Since Wake County owns and operates the building, the county is ultimately responsible for fixing the fire code violations. This includes replacing the missing occupancy signs. And once these signs are on the wall, the courtrooms will have to comply with the occupancy limit.

"We shouldn't be waiting for a sign to deal with occupancy issues," Goodwin said. "Life safety is beyond a sign."

The county is building five new courtrooms to ease overcrowding. But until they open, county leaders said they are doing the best they can to keep things moving.

"Periodically we have more people on the floor than the floor can hold," Goodwin said. "And we have to do something about it."

In the short-term, the Wake County Sheriff's Office is trying to keep congestion out of the courtroom's hallways, doorways and aisles.

The county is also working with the court system on how it schedules cases.

In the long-term, the new courtrooms should be opened by this summer. The county also plans to add sprinkler systems to every floor and eventually open a courthouse annex.