Fire Safety & Prevention in Haunted Houses
Haunted houses are a common pastime during the month of October as we approach Halloween. While this is a fun, family-friendly activity for many, it inevitably raises concerns among those in the fire industry. Below are just a few examples of fire hazards and risks that come with haunted houses.
Combustible Materials - In haunted houses, a large variety of materials are required in order to build displays or create spooky effects. As a result, these materials can be highly combustible or fuel fires.
No Fire Suppression or Detection - Although owners are obtaining the right permits, some owners fail to install the proper and appropriate fire detection and suppression systems.
Blocked/Confusing Path - Haunted houses often include visual and auditory distractions, including mazes, flashing lights, mirrors, etc. This is done to intentionally confuse the guests, however patrons can become trapped in the event of an emergency.
Crowded Exterior - As haunted houses tend to attract crowds, this can cause fire lanes to diminish. In the event of an emergency, first responders may struggle to quickly fight fire/perform rescues in large crowds.
These are just a few fire hazards and risks that come with haunted houses. Luckily, these can be prevented if the proper steps and codes are followed.
According to NFPA 101, a haunted house is, "special amusement building that can be temporary, permanent, or a mobile structure that contains a device or system that conveys passengers or provides a walkway along, around, or over a course in any direction as a form of amusement arranged so that the egress path is not readily apparent due to visual or audio distractions or an intentionally confounded egress path, or is not readily available due to the mode of conveyance through the building or structure.” It is also important to be aware that haunted houses are considered an assembly occupancy, so the size of the haunted house does not alter the fire safety requirements.
Now that we know what classifies as a haunted house, we can learn how to protect patrons and haunted houses from fires.
1. Know the Requirements - Although most local codes are based off of NFPA requirements, communities can have additional requirements. It is important to work with your local fire department in order to obtain the appropriate requirements and permits.
2. Automatic Sprinklers - Sprinklers are required in all haunted houses. If the house is portable, an approved temporary means is permitted to be used for a water supply.
3. Smoke Detectors - Detectors are required throughout the haunted house anywhere there is dim lighting. The device must sound an alarm that is connected to an attended location on site.
4. Fire Alarm System - The fire alarm system must increase lighting on egress signs and terminate the sounds and visuals that may cause confusion.
5. No Dead Ends - Dead end paths are not allowed, and all haunted houses are required to have exit markings and exit signs.
6. Certified Materials - Materials used to decorate the interior walls and ceilings must be certified as Class A materials, which are the lowest flame spread and smoke development currently available in building materials.
7. Furnishings and Decorations - Curtains cannot be placed over exit doors or be positioned in any way where it can obstruct a path. Additionally, all decorations must be flame retardant in accordance with NFPA 701.
8. Emergency Action Plans - These are required for all new and existing haunted houses. The plan should include an evacuation plan and describe how occupants and staff should react, the procedures for reporting an emergency, and any other item that may be required.
9. Inspect Pathways - Prior to the haunted house opening, the owner must inspect all paths to ensure its free from any blockages. If anything is found, it should be removed and documented in inspection records.
10. Restrictions of Open Flames - Restrictions on the use of open flames and pyrotechnical special effects are very specific. It is safest not to use them, but if desired, approval by the AHJ is required.
While haunted houses can be a fun fall activity, it is extremely important to be aware of the liabilities and risks associated with it. Make sure all codes and requirements are not overlooked to ensure maximum safety and protection. And most importantly, stay safe!