The popular downtown Brewer's Republic was given multiple chances over nearly two years to fix an outdated fire prevention system, but it never did. After inspector Brian Rapplean flagged the ineffective system, he gave the business at least three extensions to fix it. After Rapplean left the Colorado Springs Fire Department, it took half a year before another inspector picked up on the problem.
Brewer's and a joint venture, The Underground Pub and Subterranean Nightclub, closed last month. Owner Jeff Haigh said he couldn't afford to bring his kitchen into compliance with fire codes.
The kitchen's fire-suppression system relied on a dry powder to extinguish oil fires, said Kris Cooper, deputy fire marshal. The system, seated in a kitchen hood, was replaced by a wet chemical system in the 1990s when most restaurants switched from using animal fats to vegetable oils in their fryers, he said.
Brewer's and The Underground both used the kitchen.
The extensions given by Rapplean were unusual and concerning, Cooper said. Now the fire department is auditing the former inspector's reports to ensure that nothing similar happened at other businesses, he said.
But Rapplean, now an inspector for the Castle Rock Fire Department, said he gave Brewer's more time based on the department's policy to work with businesses rather than "drop the hammer right away." Any lapse in paperwork, he said, is the result of an overworked and understaffed inspection department.
"One is not always afforded the time to spend any significant amount of time on an issue," Rapplean said. "You have to hit it on the run. Quick. You've got like five minutes to make a decision."
Cooper acknowledged that the city's six fire inspectors are spread thin.
"We have something like 20,000 to 25,000 businesses in the city," he said. "We don't even touch about a tenth of that each year with our current staffing levels."
Rapplean flagged the noncompliant kitchen hood in April 2016 but allowed the work to pass unaddressed because the owner/operator was seeking bids on the work, which he said would put a financial strain on the business, inspection records show.
Dan Dettmers, a sales engineer for Cintas Fire Protection, quoted Haigh $10,451.95 to replace the system with a compliant one. Haigh could not be reached for comment. Cooper said inspectors are expected to treat each business equally and fairly.
Rapplean said he likely was trying to work with the business, which had a recent ownership change.
Haigh took over in 2016 after former owners Jerry Morris and Tom Halfast left to start Cerberus Brewing Co.
When businesses change owners or managers, inspectors tend to be more lenient, Rapplean said, to encourage voluntary compliance. This approach is more effective than doling out fines or fees, which cost money that could be spent on repairs.
Records show Rapplean revisited Brewer's in May 2016, June 2016 and March 2017. Each time he was told the owners were seeking more bids.
Cooper said it appeared Rapplean was being strung along. Typically, inspectors should ask for documentation when they're told about such bids, he said.
But Rapplean said he and other inspectors often visited up to 20 businesses a day and rarely had the opportunity to seek out additional documentation.
"It ultimately comes down to time," he said. "Time for that owner to either scan or email you the documents or bids. You've got to look at them and process them and make a decision ."
Rapplean said Cooper should have had access to all his reports from Brewer's, but he likely also was swamped with work.
Rapplean said he left for Castle Rock about April, and Brewer's wasn't inspected again until late October.
Cooper said he reviewed the bar and restaurant's violations in November and authorized a cease and desist order Nov. 23, meaning the restaurant couldn't cook anything under the outdated system.
The businesses closed less than a month later.
Tony Afshar, who owns the building at 112 N. Nevada Ave., said in December he is working to find new tenants for the ground-floor spaces.