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State fire marshal wary of WVU event plans

West Virginia University wants to have 7,000 fans on Mountaineer Field for a Brad Paisley concert later this year, but the state fire marshal says that's double the number allowed given WVU's plans for the event.

WVU wants to put the stage in front of the tunnels players use to enter the stadium, Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis said.

"Of course, those tunnels are major exits off of the field in case of an emergency," Lewis said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "So, when you start blocking those off, you start choking down your crowd exiting."

Based on fire code, Lewis said his office believes it would be safe to have only 3,500 people on the field with the stage at that location.

Lewis would allow for more people on the field if the stage were placed somewhere else. But, for reasons that were not clear, WVU appears reluctant to move it and is sending two officials to Charleston this week to plead its case.

"They appear to be adamant that they don't want to move the stage anywhere else," Lewis said.

If the stage is positioned in the center of the field or on the side without tunnels, it's possible that 7,000 people could fit on the field, he said. No matter what happens, tens of thousands of other fans could still sit in the stadium like they do at football games.

Still, WVU officials now plan to argue their case and try to get more people on the field.

Lewis said he talked with Narvel Weese, WVU's vice president for Administration and Finance, on the phone this week. He said Weese told him the university would be sending representatives Thursday.

"He just said it would be their 'technical people,' whoever that might be," Lewis said. "I hope they can teach us something."

Lewis often hears from property owners asking to circumvent maximum occupancy rules.

"This is a common occurrence," he said. "Everybody wants more people."

WVU plans to send officials from the Facilities Management department's environmental health and safety division, university spokesman John Bolt said.

"We're trying to follow the process," Bolt said.

No contract has been signed for the concert, he said.

"We're still in the negotiating stage with some big name folks," he said.

But the university appears to be in talks with Paisley, a West Virginia native and country music star.

If it happens, the concert would be a first-of-its-kind event, Bolt said. He said there had been a graduation ceremony on the field, but not with such a large crowd.

Lewis wasn't certain how many people would be allowed on the field even if there were no stage.

"Of course, the good thing about it is it's not a political issue, the fire code is black and white," Lewis said.

"I would not subject the people that would go to that concert or even Mr. Paisley or even the people from WVU who will be working that event - I will not jeopardize those folks in any shape or form."

Contact writer Ry Rivard at or 304-348-1796.


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