News 5 Investigates: Fire code violations at Pueblo Tinseltown

Posted at 7:08 PM, Mar 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-08 18:02:41-04

Movie theaters nationwide have enhanced safety in the wake of the theater shooting in Aurora back in 2012.

Just last month, you may recall Cinemark banned people from bringing large bags into theaters, but now there are new concerns over whether people could safely evacuate the Pueblo Tinseltown theater in the event of an unfortunate emergency.

Some moviegoers say exit signs aren’t visible in the dark theater and claim their complaints are being ignored.

A couple recently reached out to News 5 Investigates to share her concerns over the signage.

News 5 sent an employee inside to check out the issue. Before the movie begins, you can see where exit doors are marked with signs.

However, once the movie starts, the signage disappears.

News 5 also discovered multiple exit signs in every theater were not installed at an angle where everyone inside can see them—a clear code violation.

Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross sat down with Deputy Chief Rick Potter to discuss the matter.

Ross asked, “How did this happen?”

“Somewhere along the lines they (Tinseltown) was given and allowed to put signs in there that really were not visible from every part of the theater,” Potter said.  “It should not have been allowed in the first place.”

Potter explained that years ago, someone in the department overlooked the issue and gave the theater a passing score on its occupancy certificate. Unfortunately, once that occupancy paperwork is issued, Potter says it’s hard to correct certain violations unless there’s a change in ownership or the theater decides to remodel.

“What this situation tells us is that we need to look at all of those situations a little closer and do a better job at educating all of our crews to make sure that they are looking at all pieces of the code,” Potter said.

Ross asked, “How long have you known about this issue for?”

“A few weeks to a month now,” Potter said.

The viewer who contacted us about the safety concerns disputed that claim. After she felt her complaint wasn’t being taken seriously by the fire inspector and department, she started calling and recording the conversations.

“My concern is for the public safety,” the viewer said in a February phone conversation that was recorded with Deputy Chief Potter.  “How long ago did I speak with Erik (fire inspector)? That was at least six months ago. Has he passed on everything to you because he never returned my call?”

“He has kept me up to speed,” Potter said.

If what Deputy Chief Potter said in the recorded phone conversation was true, this means he and other fire officials knew about the code violations at least six months prior to February 2017 and well before we sent the department an inquiry about this matter.

We asked Potter for clarification.

Ross asked, “You’re telling me this hasn’t been on your radar for 6, 7, 8 months?”

“I don’t know that it has been on mine for that long,” Potter said. “I don’t know when the initial complaint was made to my inspector.”

Also on the recording is more evidence the fire department mistakenly certified the theater as compliant when in fact, it was not.

“We kind of painted ourselves into a corner,” Potter told the viewer in the recorded phone conversation from February. “From half way up the theater, the signs are just not visible at all. We are aware of it and it’s something we are going to have to figure out how to bring them into compliance.”

Potter did say safety is a top priority and he wants all businesses to be compliant.

“We’re all interested in one thing,” Potter said. “We are all interested in the well being and safety of people who go to these types of facilities.”

News 5 confirmed the fire department is working with the theater to re-install exit signs at a 45-degree angle which Potter claims will make them compliant and visible.

“I’m fully confident that when we go back all the theaters will be caught up and changed,” Potter said.

Deputy Chief Potter provided News 5 a copy of the certification letter that was just issued to the Pueblo Tinseltown on March 9. That letter was provided to News 5 on March 14.

A News 5 employee visited the theater again Thursday afternoon and said while the signs are installed at an angle, they are still hard to see.

The fire department reiterates the theater is now fully compliant with fire codes.

A spokesperson for Cinemark Theaters mirrored Potter’s message.