Haunted houses: Making scary fun, not dangerous

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s that time of year to enjoy a little scare, and haunted attractions are popping up all over West Michigan.

But how do you know the one you are visiting is not going to provide some more legitimate scares?

“We see year after year, someone in the country decides to open up a haunted house. They think it’s a great idea,” said Jim Burns, who owns the Haunt in Walker. “They’re going to scare people. They can make a lot of money. And then the fire inspector comes in and shuts them down.”

Burns started the Haunt 15 years ago.

Inside the building on Waldorf Street NW is the perfect set up for some pre-Halloween scares.

But chances are, you have not thought about the real dangers when it comes to walking through a place like the Haunt.

So 24 Hour News 8 asked Walker Fire Inspector Phil McCormack the questions he would ask if he were sending his kids to a haunted attraction.

“What kind of training their employees have had in terms of the safety aspect,” McCormack said.

He took 24 Hour News 8 through the Haunt on Waldorf Street NW, showing off a number of fire safety features.

The building has a sprinkler system. Materials used to make the place look scary are sprayed with flame retardant. Fire extinguishers are placed throughout the building. Fire exits are clearly marked.

And doors exiting the attraction to the back areas of the building provide a clear path to the exits, making sure people trying to get out in an emergency are all headed in one direction — not into each other.

But both McCormack and Burns say that it is employee training that makes everything work.

Before assuming their role, each actor hired by the Haunt, as well as other employees are trained by the Walker Fire Department on everything from how to work a fire extinguisher, to how to change roles in the event of an emergency.

“Our emphasis is more on getting people out of the building,” McCormack said. “They know that they have to make the transition from being a scary actor to now I’m an employee. We have to go.  Follow me; I’m going to take you out of the building.”

A couple of unexpected incidents, like a power outage a few years back have tested the Haunt’s cast members.

“They switch from being a scary person and switch to the mode of taking the people and getting them out of the building. We had complete evacuation done in less than two minutes,” Burns said.

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