Some people go for the adrenaline rush, some go for the Halloween tradition, others are dragged along, but, no matter the reason, when it comes to haunted houses, Phoenix officials say the public’s safety should be a priority.
While haunted houses are a favorite pastime in fall, they can be unsafe with fog, dark corners, loud music and sets that could catch on fire. That’s why the Phoenix Fire Department advises to go only to haunted houses with permits. In fact, all haunted houses that are open to the public in the city of Phoenix are required to have a fire department permit.
“It’s required by the fire code. Anytime you bring people in a maze or an area where they get distracted, you got to have a permit so we know that their safe and that they can actually get out of the haunted house,” Phoenix Fire Department fire inspector and fire prevention public information officer Brian Scholl said.
The major requirements for a haunted house to obtain a fire department permit are an automatic sprinkler system, automatic fire detection system, fire alarm with voice activation, flame retardant construction and decorative materials, visibly marked emergency exits and adult monitors with flashlights who will help lost or disoriented people.
“Were looking to make sure that everything that’s in there is fire retardant…so that if there’s a small fire or spark, the fire can’t travel through the entire haunted house and hurt people,” Scholl said.
In the city of Phoenix, The 13thFloor, Fear Farm Haunted House and Corn Maze and The House of Screams and Haunted Dreams are the only three haunted houses and attractions that are approved and permitted.
“Those are the main three because they spent all the time and energy to get through the permitting process so they can actually open up a safe haunted house,” Scholl said.
Even though the preparation work to get a permit can be long, it’s well worth it for The House of Screams and The 13thFloor.
“Yes, it’s very difficult but understandable why they do it. It keeps the public safe,” owner of House of Screams Susanne Stacy said.
“What the process is there for, it’s not even haunted houses, it’s businesses open up to the public and it’s that safety check that allows another organization that’s not involved in the project to take a look at what you’re doing and is this safe for other people to come through,” The 13thFloor production manager Jacob Redwood said.
The House of Screams and The 13thFloor not only enforce a no-touch policy requiring no waivers but also believe in the public not being put at risk. The actors at The House of Screams are mainly high school volunteers, and actors at The 13thFloor are paid, but both haunted houses train them. They also claim to spare no cost when it comes to having the right equipment and systems to ensure the public and the actors safety.
“Our goal is to always make sure that our guests our 100 percent safe at all times,” Stacy said, “So what that means is there is an evacuation plan in place, there’s emergency back-up lighting to show how they can escape. We have special lights so that way if we lost power they can still see their way out, and they’re guided not only by light and signs and arrows but the actors as well.”
“It’s very easy, especially when your talking entertainment like what we do, to lose sight of the safety factor for sake of giving a good show,” Scholl said, “and there is a ton of things that we can do that are extremely entertaining, but starts to get in that grey area of is this really safe for the public to come through?”
For unpermitted haunted houses, the danger lies in the unknown and possibly non-existent safety measures.
“As the fire marshal, we respond to a lot of the unpermitted haunted houses, because if they’re not safe we can’t let them continue to have people go through them,” Scholl said.
“The main concern is we just don’t know if they are safe or not. Do they have the proper exiting? Do they have a fire alarm? Do they have sprinklers?,” Scholl said, “We want everybody to have fun on Halloween and go to these great haunted houses, but they got to be approved so that we know they can have fun but at least be able to get out of there incase there is an emergency.”