This Halloween season will provide the opportunity for you to partake of the many Haunted Houses that are offered by not only not-for-profit organizations, but also strictly commercial vendors. Most communities, even smaller towns, have at least one haunted house type location for your frightening pleasure. Before you take the walk down the terror trail, however, you should ask a very important question: Is it safe for me to enter this facility?
Let’s look at such an amusement from a Fire Safety viewpoint.
Many challenges face the proprietors of a short term amusement facility like a Haunted House, usually open for one month at the most. Often they are held in buildings that have been abandoned and sit empty most of the year. The folks putting on the haunted house bring their own props: coffins, mannequins, lighting and sound effects and other visual trappings. Most visual effects are flowing ragged materials, creepy lights, and bodies galore, spread out through a maze like trail that takes you from one scary room to another, with live actors in each room. Scary stuff, but have you ever considered if the facility has met the proper Fire Code, Building Code, and Permitting requirements? Let me repeat: Is it safe for you to enter the facility?
Did you know that ALL of the materials used including the costumes, wall hangings, wigs, flowing sheets, spider webs and the like must be of fire retardant material or be treated with a fire retardant? Inspectors actually take small samples of the different materials and try to burn them to determine if they have been treated. Some material, like plastic sheeting, cannot be treated, and is thus not allowed to be used.
Life and Fire Safety issues are paramount for a temporary haunted house. Sufficient exits throughout, with proper door hardware and swinging the correct way must be in place. Working smoke detectors are a must. Emergency lighting must provide sufficient coverage. These are the dual high intensity lights that come on if there is a power outage. You would not want to be in an indoor maze and suffer a power outage, with no lighting available to show you the way to the nearest exit. In addition, fire extinguishers also need to be positioned throughout the facility. Those extinguishers also have to have been inspected and tagged within the previous 12 months.
Electrical wiring can create many opportunities for serious problems. Most buildings do not have sufficient power outlets to handle the many lighting special effects and sound systems used in these haunted houses. Exposed temporary wiring connections not properly insulated are a recipe for a fire. Thus, close inspection of the wiring, both permanent and temporary, must be performed, in order to reduce the chance for an electrical fire hazard.
Other things that can create hazards are the storage areas not seen by the public. That actor who comes out and chases you with the chain saw cannot store the gasoline can in the building. Packing crates for the props must be stored in an orderly manner, not blocking any exits. These are all things that must be inspected prior to the opening of the facility to the public.
Upon arrival, and before you purchase tickets, I would highly recommend that you ask the proprietor key questions: Do they have a valid Permit issued by the proper jurisdiction? Has the facility been inspected by your State Fire Marshall’s office? You should also ask to see the permit and inspection report if it is not posted.
Most of the Haunted House venues have complied with local and state codes. The great majority will provide a safe, fun, and terrifying event for you and your group. However, do not take a chance with your personal safety. Please make sure that the facility you plan to visit has complied with the proper safety and permitting requirements.
Have a safe Halloween Season, folks.