Firefighters conduct surprise fire code inspections in Old Town Scottsdale

Posted at 9:20 PM, May 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-13 01:24:49-04

It's a busy Friday night in Old Town Scottsdale — even busier for Scottsdale Fire.

They're conducting surprise inspections at a number of bars and clubs and they're checking for three main things: 

  1. Are there too many people inside?
  2. Are the exits clearly marked and not blocked?
  3. Are there fireworks or other pyrotechnics being used?

It may all seem routine, but these are steps that could save lives, much like they did back in June 1996 when the Rocking Horse Saloon went up in flames.

"It's full blown and I can't verify that everyone is out of the building!" yells one 911 caller as panic fills her voice.

The popular bar off Goldwater and Indian School caught fire in the kitchen and spread rapidly to the rest of the bar.

Within minutes, the flames were out of control. Firefighters battled through choking smoke, dumping gallons of water from above, but it wouldn't be enough.

"The entire building ignited from end to end," explains Deputy Chief Jim Ford, who was there that night, even observing what's called a "flashover," when flames spread very quickly due to intense heat.

"I wasn't a 100 percent sure all my firefighters were out at the time," Ford said.

But by a miracle, no firefighters were injured. In fact, more than 200 people were inside that night with only one suffering minor injuries.

Scottsdale Fire says they had been inspecting the Rocking Horse for things like proper exits signs and occupancy, having visited the bar 11 times in the past before that major fire. They believe that preparation not only helped them, but also helped the owners know what to do in a situation like this.

So far this year, Scottsdale Fire says they have performed 132 surprise inspections.

If violators are caught, they could face fines up to $1,000 and even jail time if it's not their first offense.