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Fire Marshal Cracks Down

By James Monteleone
Journal Staff Writer
          No more frying up burgers or popping pizza into an oven at Lobos basketball games in the Pit until the University of New Mexico gets the arena's fire safety system in order.
        And if UNM doesn't get required smoke-clearing equipment installed before Jan. 31, the legendary arena could be shut down.
        Fire Marshal John Standefer has run out of patience with the University of New Mexico and problems that weren't resolved before the debut of the recent $60 million renovation.
        "We thought we were being very reasonable in allowing them to open the building this year with additional restrictions in place," Standefer said. "The restrictions we put in place were not that difficult, and they failed miserably."
        While fire alarms and water sprinklers were installed when the renovated Pit was opened in November, UNM had not completed the system designed to clear smoke from the arena concourse.
        The state Public Regulation Commission allowed UNM to open the Pit, with the condition that concession cooking areas each have a guard on fire watch.
        But after finding that those UNM fire guards were either absent or asleep on the job during games this season, Standefer said he has had enough.
        A cooking fire at the Pit on Dec. 17 that led to the evacuation of about 14,000 fans during a men's game underscored the fire safety concern, Standefer said, although the kitchen area where that fire started was not one that required a fire guard. "It just proved our point that smoke in that building right now could create problems," the fire marshal said.
        The order that prohibits cooking with grills, fryers or pizza ovens at the Pit during basketball games went into effect Wednesday. Cooking is allowed only when the stadium is empty.
        UNM Safety and Risk Services managed the fire watch, according to Senior Associate Athletics Director Tim Cass. Department director Donna Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday.
        The Jan. 31 deadline is one UNM imposed on itself when asking for a temporary use permit, the fire marshal said. If the smoke evacuation system is not completed by then, UNM may be looking for an alternate venue to host nine additional men's and women's home games before the end of the season.
        Cass said, however, that the Pit's smoke evacuation system is on schedule to be completed before the deadline and that the university is working with the fire marshal's requests.
        The smoke evacuation system uses fans and a network of vents to pull smoke out of the arena in case of fire. The exhaust system at the old Pit was removed during the renovation, but implementing the improved computer-based venting equipment has been delayed, Cass said. The cost of the new system was included in the renovation.
        In the meantime, concessions at the Pit may be limited. Some foods will be prepared before games, Cass said. Other items, like soda and popcorn, would not be affected.
        "Truthfully, I think it's going to give us an opportunity to experiment with some different concessions," Cass said.
       



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