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Fire and Rescue
Halloween Haunted Houses and Carnivals

We take this opportunity to remind all non-profit organizations, merchants, and school personnel of their responsibility to ensure the safety of their patrons, students, parents and staff during Halloween activities.  On October 27, 1973 at the Washington-Reid Elementary School in this County, a tragic event took place.  Members of the school P.T.A. were applying the finishing touches to a haunted house they had constructed in a classroom.  Construction consisted of painted fabric wall panels forming a maze, craft paper coverings, and papier-mâché decorations.  The “haunted house” was lit with black lights and contained a sound system.

At 1:40 p.m. on that Saturday afternoon, a mere 20 minutes or so before the haunted house was to be opened to the public; a small fire was noticed in one of the paper hangings.  Three men attempted to battle the almost instantaneous inferno that ensued.  Unfortunately, one man received third degree burns to 85 percent of his body which resulted in his death several hours later.  Subsequent investigation revealed that a black light too close to the paper had ignited it, resulting in the fatal fire.  Two classrooms were completely destroyed and a third was damaged extensively.  A tragic story – all the more so because it might never have happened had a few simple precautions been observed.

To avoid a similar reoccurrence, please observe the following precautions and regulations in preparing your haunted house or carnival.

1.          Highly flammable materials such as cotton batting, straw, dried plant material, certain plastics, etc. shall not be used for decorations or construction.
2.          Avoid use of combustible materials in displays.  If used, combustibles must be treated with an approved commercial flame-retardant treatment.  Samples of all such materials must be submitted to this office for flame tests prior to use.
3.          Extension cords, multiplug adapters, and unfused plug strips are not permitted.  Only circuit breaker strips or code approved wiring is permitted.
4.          If any walls, partitions, or raised flooring are to be constructed, approval by the Department of Public Works will be required (703-792-6935).
5.          Depending on where the activity is located, approval from the Zoning Division of the Planning Office may be required (703-792-6830).
6.          Call this office for an inspection at least 48 hours prior to opening your display to the public (703-792-6360).
7.          Maintain all exits in a clear and useable condition.
8.          Know the location of the nearest fire extinguishers and how to use them.
9.          Know the location of the nearest alarm box.
10.        Make sure a telephone is available to call the fire department and that everyone knows the emergency number: 9-1-1.
If the above precautions and regulations are followed, we feel confident you will have a safe and a happy Halloween.
An application process is required for haunted houses and carnivals.  Please contact the Fire Marshal’s Office at 703-792-6360 for further direction. 


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