LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With indoor dining banned under current guidelines, dozens of restaurants are deploying tents, igloos, and heaters as they fight to stay open. 

What You Need To Know

  • Restaurants are getting creative in efforts to remain open

  • Outdoor heaters are popular, but fire officials say also dangerous

  • Establishments must pass an inspection and meet all codes to operate such devices

  • Safety first is the most important rule when using outdoor heating devices

The Jefferson County Fire Service is advising safety when heating outdoor dining structures as it could result in a dangerous situation.

Many Kentucky restaurants see tents, igloos, and other outdoor options as the last chance for survival as they work to comply with the latest COVID-19 policies.

Captain James Hundley Jr., Deputy Fire Marshal with the Jefferson County Fire Service tells Spectrum News 1, ”We’re seeing igloos as you specified popping up more."

As the temperatures drop, restaurant owners are trying to make sitting outdoors more appetizing for customers. However, Hundley says inspections found some property owners are using heaters in a way that could be dangerous.

“Some of the cons that we’ve been running into are open flamed devices. Heaters are simply not allowed to be in those tent structures per the fire code,” explains Hundley.

Fire officials say some businesses have improperly used heaters and were ordered to remove them.

“There’s so many dangers. Some of those products are propane fueled that can create the situation causing a carbon monoxide situation,” adds Hundley.

Businesses are required to apply for a permit and pass an inspection to confirm the safety and stability of heated tents before opening the structure for business.

“The tent structure to be used to serve the public or to be used in a business situation have to have an NFPA 701 rating, basically what that means is that tent is made of a material that is flame retardant not flameproof,” says Hundley.

Fire marshals have been actively checking and rechecking sites to ensure safety and compliance.

“I’d say 90% of the property owners we’ve talked to no kickback whatsoever complete cooperation and understand what we’re doing. There’s frustration out there.”

Hundley says he respects restaurants' efforts, but they need to address the fire code violations. He adds they are ready to assist and offer guidance in helping them meet code and permit requirements.

“Everybody’s doing what they feel they need to do to try and keep their business running, keep people fed, and keep people employed and we understand that.”

He says they have not had any incidents related to one of these structures catching fire, this message is just a precautionary one.

Hundley says his fire district has worked with nearly 100 restaurant owners to be sure their plans meet code requirements.