BROOKSVILLE - When the fire alarm at the Beacon Theatres was tripped by pranksters last weekend, the sound on the movie projectors in all auditoriums was supposed to shut off automatically, enabling patrons to hear the alert.
That didn't happen because the system was not working properly, county fire inspectors determined Friday during a visit to the complex in the wake of the incident. And the faulty system could have gone undetected for almost a year had this act of vandalism not occurred.
Hernando County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Kevin Carroll said theater officials must immediately repair the system.
Also Friday, the fire inspector found that the emergency lighting in two of the theatre's auditoriums was not working because of a faulty breaker. That prevented the back-up battery that runs the emergency lighting from being charged. Theaters management has two weeks to fix that problem.
Carroll said the Beacon Theater hires private companies to annually test and certify that the alarm systems function properly. The company sends those reports to the county fire department for review.
The last report from the Beacon Theater was a month ago and the company found no malfunctions in any of the alarm systems.
That means the problems could have lasted 11 months before the next certified report was done, Carroll said.
Because of what happened, Carroll said his inspector on Monday will investigate the last time an alarm system report on Hernando County's only other theater - the Spring Hill Cinema - was conducted and make sure everything is up to date.
Carroll said the Beacon management also agreed on a protocol change. During last weekend's incident, theater employees halted an evacuation in mid-stream after it was determined it was a false alarm.
From now on, management has agreed to complete any evacuation once the fire alarm goes off and wait until a fire rescue official arrives on scene to confirm that it is safe for patrons to re-enter the building.
Overall, Carroll said the fire inspection team was impressed with the facility's fire procedures and stressed that management was cooperative and accommodating. The theater is located in the Western Way Plaza, at the corner of State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard.
Bo Chambliss, owner of Georgia Theatre Company, did not return phone calls for comment.
Denise Moloney, public information officer with the sheriff's office, said Friday there are no leads yet on the person or persons who set off the alarm Saturday night and broke a sprinkler head, causing $20,000 in water damage.
Anyone with any information is urged to call the sheriff's office at (866) 990-TIPS or submit an anonymous tip via the Internet at www.hernando sheriff.org/Tips.
Tipsters will remain anonymous and also be eligible for a reward up to $1,000 cash, according to the sheriff's office.