Local Dollar General closed for failure to comply with sprinkler maintenance

Dollar generals around the country have been fined more than $9 million for unsafe working conditions, and local stores are no stranger to fines of their own.

Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Bishop temporarily closed the Dollar General at Rutherford College on Monday after it failed to get annual service completed for its fire sprinkler system after it was warned the inspection was past due Oct. 6, according to information from Bishop.

He’d warned the store it would be closed at an inspection on Oct. 6, and the store’s management and staff also had been warned of the violation at inspections on Aug. 29 and July 28, information from Bishop said.

This location will remain closed until its fire sprinkler system has been serviced, Bishop said. Other violations identified in earlier inspections, like not having enough fire extinguishers and painted sprinkler heads, had been corrected by Monday’s fourth inspection attempt.

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The violations have cost the store $2,300 in citations so far.

This isn’t the first Dollar General in Burke County to be forced to temporarily close because of fire code violations.

The Dollar General on US 70 in Glen Alpine was closed around 3 pm Sept 10 because there was too much stuff lining the aisles and blocking exits, said Burke County Fire Marshal Mike Willis.

The store on NC 181 in Oak Hill, near Oak Hill Elementary School, was closed around 2:30 pm Sept 20, then reopened around 4 pm the next day for the same reason, Willis said.

Both stores were fined $250 for the violations. Their inspections stemmed from resident complaints about concerns with the fire code.

“Our office responds to any complaint received about hazards or concerns to buildings within our scope,” Bishop said in a statement to reporters. “Temporarily closing a store is not necessarily warranted in all situations. In the event the situation presents an immediate threat to fire/life safety to employees, customers, visitors, or anyone who may be subject to harm in the specific building, appropriate action will be taken.”

Willis said failure to keep safeguards in place can result in tragedy.

“Throughout history, fires that have occurred that ended in some type of major injury or fatality in some business or industry has been attributed to the occupants being able to egress the building in the event of a fire,” Willis said. “The last notable one in North Carolina would have been the Hamlet fire, that pretty much transformed the fire code as we know it today to what it really is. That was a chicken processing plant and they had some exterior doors locked, chain-locked, to where people couldn’t get out because of some theft issues.”

The 1991 fire left 25 people dead and 54 injured, including 12 people who were found dead in a freezer trying to escape the plant. It didn’t have a working sprinkler system or evacuation plan, according to a WRAL report from the 30th anniversary of the fire.

“That has pretty much catapulted North Carolina’s enforcement action on ensuring that exits are maintained,” Willis said. “Our primary focus is that citizens have a way to get out should anything go wrong. Not just fire, but anything. You’ve got to be able to get away from danger.”

Burke County Dollar General locations aren’t the only ones that have been hit with fines for safety violations.

Dollar Generals in Georgia, Florida and Alabama were hit with more than $1.6 million in fines from the US Department of Labor.

A press release from USDOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said April 2022 inspections in several cities in the three states led to Dollar General Corp. being cited for four willful and 10 repeat violations for failure to keep receiving and storage areas clean, and stacking materials in an unsafe manner.

They also were cited for failure to keep exit routes and electrical panels clear and unobstructed, and for failing to mount and label fire extinguishers. One of the exit doors seen in an inspection was locked and required a key to open it, the release said.

The fines aren’t new for Dollar General’s corporate office, which has been levied more than $9.6 million in fines since 2017.

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected] or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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