Haunted houses are scary, but are they safe?

How safe are haunted houses?

COLUMBIANA, AL (WBRC) – After working in haunted houses for 25 years, Kevin Ricke is done with gore and goblins.

“Everything out there is basically blood, guts, demons and chainsaws.”

You won’t find any of that at Phobia Factory in Columbiana. Ricke and his wife, Vicky, are tapping into what they believe really scares people.

“Everything in the house is based on phobias,” said Ricke, owner, Phobia Factory.

Arachnophobia, coulrophobia, and pyropobia. Spiders and clowns are guaranteed, but Ricke has done everything he can to make sure the only fire at his haunted house, is an illusion.

“We are as safe as you can possible be in this building,” Ricke says with confidence, after months of working to ensure Phobia Factory was up to code.

“We started on April 15 and finished and got our license 2 hours before we opened,” he said with a laugh. “So yes, we were at it for probably 14 to 16 hours a day.”

Based on state law, haunted houses are considered a special amusement assembly and no matter the size, requires an architect to work on the design, making sure fire and building codes are followed.

“We bring people in, we darken the space, regardless of the size, we have loud music playing, we have scary creatures out there in costume that are trying to scare the wits out those who bought the ticket to go through the attraction,” said Alabama Fire Marshal Scott Pilgreen when asked about the potential dangers of a haunted house.

“How are they decorated?” he asks rhetorically. “With a lot of combustible materials.”

Pilgreen’s inspectors worked with Ricke, at his request, to make sure the Phobia Factory was up to code. Pilgreen’s office will get involved in cases by request or complaint as most inspections are handled at the local level.

There are exceptions, and as Pilgreen says, misconceptions.

“People who are out in the county, in unincorporated areas, there is a false belief that there are no building codes, there are no fire codes, there is nothing to govern what we do so we can build whatever we want and do whatever we want but that is false.”

Safety requirements, like the number of required exits, depend on the size of the haunted house. Pilgreen says one way to know if the place is safe is to look up.

“Are they in a sprinkled building?,” asks Pilgreen. “Any haunted house, by whatever name it goes by, has to be, by fire code, a sprinkled building.”

If there are no sprinklers, Pilgreen says he’d, “start asking questions to find out more about the attraction before I would take my family in there.”

Sprinklers run across the ceiling every 8 feet at the Phobia Factory. A centralized alarm system monitors the heat sensors and an intercom provides mass communication in case of an emergency. Doors were replaced to have a push bar instead of knob.

“They don’t have to unlock doors, just push the button, push the thing and go,” said Ricke.

He added, “If a sprinkler were to go off, or there was too much heat in here, all of the electrical things that are running that make noise are shut down.

Then all the exit signs, because you don’t normally have exit signs lit up when people are walking through the path but, as soon as an emergency occurs, all the lights come on and the emergency exit signs come on.”

As the lights goes down and guests walk through, Ricke listens with ease, waiting for the screams to start. With the State Fire Marshal’s seal of approval, he knows he’s done it the right way.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office can shut down a haunted house that’s out of compliance but it rarely happens. The last time it did was in 2015 in Elmore County when the state found a haunted house operated by firefighters was a safety hazard.

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