Fire Officials Want Safety

To Win Out Over Grilling

This may be the last Fourth of July that Washington state apartment dwellers can grill burgers on their balconies.

A ban on outdoor cooking -- part of a new building code -- was to take effect July 1 but after an outcry has been delayed until after public hearings in the fall. The new state building code would prohibit open-flame cooking on apartment balconies and patios made of combustible materials.

It's a safety move, fire prevention experts said. Fires sparked by outdoor grills kill five people, injure nearly 200 hundred others and cause more than $35 million in damage every year. Flames pose special risks to apartments because the fire can spread from one unit to another in seconds, said Lisa Jones of the Spokane Fire Department.

"People want to be outside and enjoy the nice weather and their outdoor barbecues, but they don't really think about the surrounding conditions. It can just go from one balcony to the next balcony to the next," Jones said.

-- Kimberly Edds

Lines at Watering Holes

Just Got a Tad More Efficient

The dating life, not to mention the drinking life, just got a bit easier in the Green Mountain State.

For the first time in a century, a patron can step up to the bar in Vermont and buy a drink for himself and a date at the same time. Until now Vermont had imposed a legal limit of one drink per turn at the bar. And that resulted in a lot of annoyed customers.

Ken Walters, owner of the Rusty Nail in the mountain resort town of Stowe remembers a lot of heated conversations with the booze-'n'-ski set. "The way it used to be was such a foreign concept that you couldn't order two drinks," he said.

While they were at it, Vermont legislators changed another law that prevented patrons from carrying their martinis and gin-and-tonics onto the dance floor. The legislators cited the cases of four women last year who were sexually assaulted after someone slipped "date rape" drugs into their unfinished drinks.

"Vermont is probably one of the most liberal states," Walters said. "It's just unfortunate that the Department of Liquor Control is so conservative."

A sentiment worth drinking to, perhaps.

-- Michael Powell

Guns 'n' Ammo Collect Dust

After Police Force Disbands

The central Texas town of Bartlett owns more than a dozen high-powered, high-priced weapons, including a machine gun "like you would see on 'The Sopranos,' "said Mayor Bobby Hill. But now there's no one to shoot them. The police department has just been canned.

Last month's demise of the police force was prompted by complaints from minority residents in the 1,500-person town about police harassment, racial profiling of drivers, and drug-sniffing dogs being sent into bars frequented by Hispanics and African Americans.

The mayor and city council also were concerned about police overspending on guns, ammo, bulletproof vests and other supplies, Hill said.

At its height, Bartlett's police force had five full-time and three reserve officers. They had their own building, more computers than city hall and an arsenal fit for an urban SWAT team.

Hill's theory: "I think it was just a big ego trip for the police department, and they were highly taking advantage of minorities."

For now, the sheriff's departments of Williamson and Bell counties, which Bartlett straddles, are answering 911 calls. Hill wants to hire two permanent and one or two reserve officers and get back to small-town policing, such as being "over at the schools when traffic is coming in," the mayor said.

-- Sylvia Moreno

Brewery Town Happy to Host

Museum for What Ales You

The American Breweriana Association has passed over such well-known beer towns as Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis to locate its new National Brewery Museum in Potosi, Wis.

Potosi may be small -- only 726 people in a village perched on the banks of the Mississippi River -- but it knows its beer. In fact, it had its own: The Potosi Brewery pumped out Potosi beer from 1852 to 1972, distributing it throughout the Midwest and as far as California.

The new museum will be on the site of the old brewery.

Village president Frank Fiorenza noted that the town had already committed to restoring the brewery when residents heard the association was looking for a spot for the museum, which is slated to open in a few years. It will include items from association members' collections of beer cans, bottles, trays, glasses, ads and other brewery memorabilia.

"There are still a lot of people in Potosi who worked at the brewery," Fiorenza said. "It's a major part of the community."

-- Kari Lydersen

Bobby Hill, mayor of Bartlett, Tex., criticized the police department for overspending on weapons and supplies.