LDH issues ‘immediate closure’ order to Firehouse BBQ in Watson over mask mandate; owners will not comply


Submitted/The Livingston Parish News

WATSON, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – Governor John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate issued in early July has hit the first Livingston Parish business.

On Friday, July 31 Firehouse BBQ in Watson was served with notice from the Louisiana Department of Health that ownership were to close their establishment “immediately.” The statement was issued as an emergency order from the Louisiana Department of Health.

According to the order, Firehouse BBQ faced a random inspection from a health official “sometime next week” and, if not in compliance with the following rules, the restaurant would remain closed.

Those rules are:

  • To immediately and permanently remove any signs at the Facility, and posts on social media, stating or indicating that compliance with the mask/face covering requirements of the Governor’s COVID-19 related Proclamations do not have to be adhered to at the Facility or customers/patrons;
  • To not replace any such removed signs with substantially similar substitutes;
  • To enforce the applicable mask/face covering requires of the Governor’s COVID-19-related Proclamations at the Facility at all time by ejecting from the Facility any employees or customers who fail or refuse to wear masks/face coverings as required by such Proclamations;
  • To maintain and enforce the applicable table distancing and social distancing requirements of the Governor’s COVID-19-related Proclamations at the Facility at all times, including by ejections of customers/patrons who fail or refuse to adhere to same.

The statement from the Department of Health went on to say that if, during the unannounced inspection ‘next week,’ Firehouse BBQ had not complied with the rules set forth in their initial order then the state would seek an injunction through District Court and file a ‘Temporary Restraining Order’ to prevent commerce.

The Bunch family, owners of Firehouse BBQ, have announced via social media that they will not comply.

Saturday morning, the restaurant stated on their Facebook page that they would remain open for business despite the health department’s order and masks will continue to be optional. Tables will be spread 10′ apart, the post said, in accordance with social distancing requirements.

The post also invites patrons to dine, cater, or order carry-out from Firehouse BBQ to fund an attorney to “fight for their rights as citizens.”

Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion roughly a week after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced masks would be required around the state, stating that it was his belief the mandate was “illegal” and “unconstitutional.”

No formal action was ever taken.

In order to receive the announcement from the Louisiana Department of Health, the business would have to have been reported. It’s unclear whether Firehouse BBQ was reported directly to the Fire Marshal’s office, or that agency was directed to a Facebook post from July 23 of this year, wherein Firehouse made clear on Facebook that for health concerns of their staff they would not enforce a mask mandate.

“Since rebreathing their own carbon dioxide over a period of time can and has led to symptoms such as migraines and anxiety attacks and other medical conditions, we are no longer requiring our employees to wear the masks,” the post read. “The heat and exertion in a restaurant environment also compounds the issue, and we must take care of our employees and their health.”

The News has reached out to the Louisiana Department of Health and State Fire Marshal’s office for comments on next steps. In recent closures of bars around the state, all four will face appeals hearings in early August and potentially face up to 30 days closure.

However, a slightly cut-off picture posted on social media alludes that, if the business continues to operate, they forfeit their right to an appeal. The News is seeking clarification.

McHugh David | The News

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