SPRING HILL — When vandals damaged a sprinkler head at the Beacon Stadium Cinemas and prompted fire alarms to sound late Saturday, many moviegoers headed for the exits.
But authorities say some patrons remained in their cushioned seats and continued to watch movies while theater staffers figured out what was happening.
That shouldn't have occurred, Spring Hill Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Kevin Carroll said Tuesday.
"There's no doubt that from the onset of the alarm, everyone should have evacuated," Carroll said. "Get everybody out of the building until we confirm it's safe."
He said an initial review shows no codes or laws were violated, but a fire inspector is working with the theater management to improve the protocol when an alarm sounds.
"They've been extremely cooperative and want to do the right thing," Carroll said.
The Beacon is owned by the Georgia Theatre Co. based in St. Simons Island, Ga. A manager at the theater referred a Tampa Bay Times reporter to a company official, who did not return a message left at his office Tuesday.
According to the Hernando Sheriff's Office, patrons were watching movies in two theaters about 11:45 p.m. when vandals tampered with a sprinkler head near a restroom, triggering some sprinklers in the hallway to spray and the fire alarm to sound. The vandals escaped as the theater staff evacuated the building, the Sheriff's Office said in a media release.
But Carroll said one patron told a fire inspector that the staff did not direct everyone to leave the building. The patron said warning lights began to flash and a prerecorded message directing people to head for the exits began to sound, but it was not clearly audible above the movie, which continued to play.
Theater staffers identified the problem and silenced the alarm, Carroll said. Fire crews arrived, turned off the sprinklers and confirmed there was no fire or need to get everyone else out of the building.
The state fire code requires audible alarms to be at least 15 decibels above the ambient sound in the room, so officials will make sure that is the case at the Beacon, Carroll said.
The inspector, who is meeting with theater officials on Friday, will also recommend that the film projectors automatically shut off and house lights come on when the fire alarm is triggered.
The Sheriff's Office said the incident caused more than $20,000 worth of damage to the building.