ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Haunted houses are safe, but can aggravate health conditions

Oct 17, 2023, 2:07 PM

Image of the opening of a haunted house. The Salt Lake City Fire Department describes how haunted h...

The Salt Lake City Fire Department describes how haunted houses are inspected, and what they expect employees to know in order to keep customers safe. (Sam Penrod/KSL TV)

(Sam Penrod/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Inquiring parents want to know. Are Utah’s haunted houses safe?

“They’re actually extremely safe,” said Salt Lake Fire Captain Shaun Mumedy. “We inspect them yearly for fire- and life-safety issues.”

Those inspections cover everything from having well-lit exits to having unobstructed pathways that lead to those exits. The fire department also checks smoke detection systems, and whether sprinklers and alarms are up to date and in good working order.

Having knowledgeable people in the haunted houses is also important. Mumedy said these employees are trained “every few months.”

“They’re also required to maintain some type of training with their employees … They essentially become crowd managers in the event of an emergency,” Mumedy said.

Some of the most important information that fire departments leave with haunted house employees is “where to direct people to a safe exit,” he said.

Do the fire inspectors go through haunted houses like customers do?

“Yes” is the short answer. Each haunted house gets two inspections. “They get an official inspection so they can obtain the permit,” Mumedy said. “But we also have inspectors and fire investigators who are assigned to go through these structures at prime operating times on the weekends to make sure they’re not overcrowding.

“They make sure everything is as safe as it was during the permit inspection.”

The permit, which is good for a year, is called an assembly permit. It’s the same kind of permit given to churches, amusement parks, and movie theaters, Mumedy said.

“They have to follow the same international fire codes. It’s perfectly safe in those regards in the same way those other structures are safe.”

But what about the fear?

“Fear is a completely different animal,” Mumedy said. “There’s no permit to make sure fear is safe because everyone handles that differently. These structures are designed to elicit certain physiological changes, and not everyone is meant to handle those.”

The captain has been with the Salt Lake City Fire Department for 17 years. And he said he has responded to haunted houses over his career.

“What we see most is a breathing problem, some type of fear response exacerbated an asthma problem,” he said.

Or we see a seizure problem with the flashing lights. Sometimes it’s an anxiety issue. We respond to a few anxiety calls there.”

Captain Mumedy’s advice is if you know you have underlying health issues like asthma or those that are anxiety-based, this may not be for you. “The fog machine is not a smoke machine,” he explained. “It’s atomized water, but that can still pose a problem if you’re asthmatic or have breathing issues.”

Very rarely the Fire Department will see traumatic injuries in haunted houses. “If we do,” Mumedy said, “it’s a rolled ankle or knee injury if they had to climb stairs and just misstepped.”

His overall message for Halloween celebrants? “People should know these buildings are very safe. They hold events year-round doing various things. So they are maintained and up to date.”

We want to hear from you.

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Haunted houses are safe, but can aggravate health conditions