Smeads Pub battles with fire marshall to keep beer garden tent open

Pub owner just trying to survive in environment of ever-changing rules

Local small businesses, especially restaurants and bars, have struggled to remain viable under the COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee. But those that are, have adapted to numerous changes, many often last minute with little notice or advance warning.

On New Year’s Eve, the Smeads Pub in Washougal faced a new, unimagined battle according to its owner, Kimber Eckman. The fire marshall entered the establishment twice and essentially shut Smeads Pub down. A one-sided public relations battle has taken place on social media, as there has been no official response from the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.

Just after noon on Jan. 1, Eckman posted on social media a description of what happened. She accuses the fire marshall of acting as “jury, judge, and executioner in the administration of outdoor COVID-safe protocols for restaurants.” The fire marshall issued an order “stopping the use of our tent as-is” according to Eckman. In November, Gov. Inslee issued an executive order banning indoor dining at bars and restaurants.

The beer garden tent of Smeads Pub was closed down on New Year’s Eve by the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshall. Propane heating for patrons is a possible source of the dispute. Photo by John Ley
The beer garden tent of Smeads Pub was closed down on New Year’s Eve by the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshall. Propane heating for patrons is a possible source of the dispute. Photo by John Ley

“Until last night, we were under the impression he was working with us and looking into other ways we might continue operating a comfortable and safe environment at our establishment,” Eckman said. The Fire Marshal showed up twice and could not answer questions about his orders, according to Eckman. 

“He had difficulty providing documentation,” she said. “He bullied and yelled at our employees, and on his second visit he attempted to have my son arrested after my son had asked questions regarding the order. We are not completely sure under what charges he was attempting to have my son arrested.”

The Washougal Police Department indicated no police report was filed on the incident. 

The Fire Marshall forwarded our request for information to Fire Chief Nick Swinhart, who provided the following information:

The Camas-Washougal Fire Department is focused on protecting life, health and safety in our community including but not limited to enforcement of Fire Codes. The Fire Marshal’s office is working with the property owner to ensure compliance with the fire and life safety requirements of the International Fire Code.

For further clarity below are some links that may be helpful for members of the community:

https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IFC2015/chapter-6-building-services-and-systems

https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IFC2015/chapter-31-tents-and-other-membrane-structures

Apparently there is an issue with the propane heating in Smeads Pub Beer Garden.  “It would appear Washougal does not have the same requirements as Clark County, in that they (Washougal) have recently banned all propane heating units,” Eckman said in a later social media posting. “I found this out on New Year’s Eve.” 

Eckman said her insurance company and their underwriter approved the tent set up and complimented her on how safe and properly social distanced it was. She recently ordered a fire retardant product for the tent. “All of our employees were trained on the new opening and closing procedures required in order for everyone’s safety,” she said.

According to Eckman, the entire situation has been more than disheartening. “The City of Washougal should be working with small businesses, not working to end them,” she said. “Our establishment has maintained a commitment to the safety of our guests, evident in new barriers, railings, and many other precautions taken early last-March.” 

The tent and the beer garden had been approved by Smeads Pub’s insurance company and was praised by some for its safety and proper social distancing. Photo by Smeads Pub
The tent and the beer garden had been approved by Smeads Pub’s insurance company and was praised by some for its safety and proper social distancing. Photo by Smeads Pub

Eckman says she has spent a lot of time, money, and effort to create an outdoor area in Smeads already-permitted beer garden that complies with the governor’s order. Yet it apparently was not enough. “Last night, the Fire Marshal told me that “he doesn’t care what I do,” but that my tent was going “to be closed down,” she said.

The entire situation was completely blown out of proportion and was again completely avoidable according to Eckman. “I’m not looking to cause anyone a problem and I take the safety of my employees and patrons very serious.” There are no facts of restaurants, bars, and breweries heavily contributing to the reported surge in COVID she said.

Eckman states she’s just trying to survive, like everyone else. “It is unclear to me why I was singled out,” she said. “The rules and restrictions for operating a bar and/or restaurant changes almost daily.” Public officials should keep businesses updated and help guide us; not causing further detriment and financial loss according to Eckman.

Currently, Smeads Pub offers take out service only, until the current dispute is resolved.

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