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Nightclub safety a rising concern

DANIELLE MALLOTT/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Communication junior Dana Bernardini and junior majoring in English Nate Pluke talk over a beer last night at Gentle Ben's.
By Tessa Hill & Ian Musil
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 13, 2003

As Laura Conklin stepped inside Maloney's on Fourth on a bustling Saturday night, she contemplated not only how long it would take to catch the bartender's attention, but where the nearest exit was in case of an emergency.

For many UA students, this safety concern has come as a result of a string of recent nightclub disasters.

On Tuesday, 10 people were injured in the ensuing panic after one man opened fire on and another man slashed clubgoers in a New York City nightclub. On Feb. 20, a deadly fire ripped through a Rhode Island nightclub, taking 99 lives. A few days before that, a stampede in a Chicago nightclub killed 21.

Although Conklin, a pre-physiological sciences junior, doesn't think a tragedy like any of these is likely to happen in any of Tucson's bars, she said it has made her consider a new set of issues when she plans her weekends.

"I make myself more aware of my surroundings now," Conklin said. "I used to worry more about someone slipping something in my drink."

Conklin added that since the incidents, she has taken a mental note of additional exits at bars and nightclubs.

Local bar managers and Tucson Fire Department officials said the chances that events like those in New York, Chicago and Rhode Island would occur in Tucson are slim.

Kiki Kirchoffner, manager of Maloney's on Fourth and 8 Traxx, 213 N. Fourth Ave., said that with 13 exits that remain open during business hours, the establishment complies with local fire codes.

The maximum occupancy of Maloney's and 8 Traxx is 600, and is typically reached on weekends, Kirchoffner said. She added that the exits would allow a large group of people to free-flow out of the building in case of an emergency.

"We do all sorts of training and, of course, take precautionary measures," she said.

Like Maloney's, most major bars and nightclubs in Tucson comply with local fire codes, according to TFD Assistant Fire Chief Ray Allen.

That is partially due to recent inspections.

Last year, inspectors issued notices about inadequately marked exits, blocked or locked exits and overcrowding to 17 local nightclubs.

"We've been out and checked clubs since," Allen said, adding that most local bar owners have welcomed the inspections.

Tom Czarnowski, a marketing junior, said that although it's important to know where the exits are, his biggest concern is that he won't be able to think rationally in the event of an emergency if he's had a couple of drinks.

"Too many people that are really drunk is not a good situation," Czarnowski said. "I know I wouldn't stay calm. I'd probably freak out."

According to Lynn Reyes, UA Alcohol and Drug Prevention Specialist, alcohol consumption can impair judgment, causing a delayed reaction during an emergency situation.

"Alcohol, in fact, fools our brain into thinking that we have better judgment than we actually do," Reyes said. "As we drink more, our reaction time impairment becomes more obvious."

Conklin is just one example of the students who are beginning to recognize the need for more responsible judgment at bars and nightclubs by limiting the amount of alcohol she drinks when she's out.

She said she believes that being able to think rationally and react quickly in an emergency is now more of a priority.

"Alcohol would definitely play a large role in an emergency," Conklin said.

Although Conklin and Czarnowski said they feel safe at most Tucson bars, they agree that there is a possibility at every bar or nightclub for people to get hurt.

"Unfortunately we can only do so much," Allen said.

With St. Patrick's Day and spring break right around the corner, TFD will be visiting local bars to ensure safety.

Allen said the most important thing students can do is remember they are "not immune to disaster."

"Anyone who says so is a fool," he said.

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