One man has been charged with unlicensed contracting related to the installation of a walk-in unit at Salty’s Gulfport Bar, 5413 Shore Boulevard, that resulted in three fire departments responding to an emergency fire call on the afternoon of Friday, March 8.
“We’re just very thankful that no one was hurt,” said business owner J.P. Brewer, who called 911 at 3:23 p.m. after one of the contractors watching the outside of the building told her they saw smoke.
“We probably had 25-30 people inside,” said Brewer. “Once the fire department got there, they asked everybody to evacuate. So, everybody went out to the sidewalk.”
Gulfport firefighters along with Chief James Marenkovic were the first on the scene and they assisted patrons during the evacuation of the building.
They were soon joined by firefighters from South Pasadena and St. Petersburg.
Firefighters from South Pasadena cut through the roof in order to locate the source of the smoke, he said.
“By 3:49 p.m., we had water at the base of the fire,” said Marenkovic. Damage was limited to part of the roof and fascia board area on the east side of the Salty’s building located next to O’Maddy’s Bar & Grille, 5405 Shore Boulevard.
The fire “was small in nature and we were able to extinguish it pretty quickly once we cut the roof,” said Marenkovic.
Damages are estimated to be about $10,000, he said.
Gulfport police were originally called to the scene for routine crowd control, said Detective Sergeant Thomas Woodman, the public information officer. Then, in coordination with firefighters on the scene, officers also determined that Wesley McMillan of St. Petersburg was working without a proper contractor’s license. In addition, no one had applied for a city building permit for the scope of work.
As a result of the contracting license violation, McMillan has been charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, said Woodman. Because it is his first offense and a police officer did not witness him doing the construction work, he was not arrested.
McMillan’s case has been referred to the Florida State Attorney’s Office and they will determine the next legal step, said Woodman. McMillan faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
“There’s no smoke damage inside,” said Brewer. “You can’t smell it. They caught it in time.”
The fire was “isolated to a little area over where they were putting in the walk in,” she said. “So, they got to it quick enough with minimal damage.”
According to Pinellas County Property Records, the building where Salty’s does business is owned by Arthur Jacobs of Largo.
The entire incident remains under investigation by both the police and fire departments.
With the approval of Brewer, local musician Stephanie Callahan started a Facebook fundraising campaign on the same evening as the day of the fire because at that time, no one knew how long the business would need to be closed and she didn’t want the employees to go without wages.
Callahan is the lead singer, bass and guitar player with The Cheaters, one of two musical groups she is a member of that play at Salty’s. Though she has done fundraising before at her performances, this was the first time she tried to do one online.
“Because of what J.P. and that establishment have done for the community over the years, whatever we can do to pay it forward or pay it back, you know,” said Callahan. “If she’s in need, she would never ask for anything. So, this online fundraiser is absolutely what I used my fan base to do.”
As soon as Callahan posted the fundraising effort on Facebook, it took off.
In a telephone interview with the Gabber at 4:22 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, Brewer said she had met with her employees and informed them that she would take care of their lost wages due to the business closure.
By Sunday, March 10 – in less than 48 hours – Callahan had exceeded her original goal of raising $7,000 and stopped the effort at $7,685. After $304.01 in Facebook processing fees for the private fundraising campaign, Callahan said she will deliver a check for $7,380.99 to Brewer when the funds become available in about five days.
It was “great work by everyone in the community,” said Callahan.
In a Facebook post at 12:33 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, Brewer said, “I am completely overwhelmed by all of the support, the calls and texts and mostly by the amount of donations that were given to help the Salty’s crew. I can not thank everyone enough for caring so much about my staff, myself and our special little bar called Salty’s.”