Before getting into this week’s Fire Code topic I want to highlight my coworker’s latest blog post, Planning for the unthinkable in assembly venues with the Life Safety Code. Greg, a Principal Engineer in the Building Fire Protection and Life Safety Department at NFPA, discusses how the scope and provisions of NFPA 101 apply to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas and how we, as safety professionals, can contribute to occupant safety in the future. I am truly saddened by the events that required such a post be written in the first place, but cannot deny that we, as professionals, need to keep pushing forward and making changes and doing our best to make this world a safer place. Thanks, Greg, for the timely and thoughtful information.
Onto NFPA 1.
Do you ever feel like you are preparing for the holidays months in advance these days? Just the other day I heard a holiday ad on the radio and saw Christmas decorations on display while shopping. Whether we are ready or not, the “holiday season” is here. A common fixture during during fall is the haunted house. Large or small, permanent or temporary, professional or amateur, haunted houses are popping up everywhere, especially in buildings not originally designed to accommodate such use. Unfortunately, haunted houses can cause nightmares for more than just those that attend. Without the proper knowledge and understanding of the codes that apply, haunted houses can be a safety nightmare as well.
Per NFPA 1, Fire Code, a haunted house is considered a special amusement building. By definition, a special amusement building is "a building that is temporary, permanent, or mobile and contains a device or system that conveys passengers or provides a walkway along, around, or over a course in any direction as a form of amusement arranged so that the egress path is not readily apparent due to visual or audio distractions or an intentionally confounded egress path, or is not readily available due to the mode of conveyance through the building or structure." A special amusement building is an assembly occupancy regardless of occupant load.
Haunted houses use special effects, scenery, props, and audio and visual distractions that may cause egress paths to become not obvious. In haunted houses in particular, the presence of combustible materials and special scenery can also contribute to the fuel load should a fire occur. Because of this, the Code requirements are purposely strict to in hopes of avoiding a potentially disastrous fire event.
Code provisions for special amusement buildings are found in Section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1. The Code requirements for haunted houses are summarized below:
- Haunted houses must apply the provisions for assembly occupancies in addition to the provisions of Section 20.1.4.
- Automatic sprinklers are required for all haunted houses. If the haunted house is considered moveable or portable, an approved temporary means is permitted to be used for water supply.
- Smoke detection is required throughout the haunted house where the nature it operates in reduced lighting and the actuation of any smoke detection device must sound an alarm at a constantly attended location on the premises.
- Actuation of sprinklers or any suppression systems, smoke detection system (having a cross zoning capability) must provide an increase in illumination of the means of egress and termination of other confusing visuals or sounds.
- Exit marking and floor proximity exit signs are required. Where designs are such that the egress path is not apparent, additional directional exit marking is required.
- Interior wall and ceiling finish materials must be Class A throughout.
- Per Section 10.8.1, emergency action plans are required.
Other requirements, not specific just to haunted houses or special amusement buildings, may also apply:
- Permits (see Section 1.12)
- Seasonal buildings (see Section 10.12)
- Special outdoor events, fairs and carnivals (see Section 10.14)
As we move into the Halloween and haunted house season, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and overlook the safety issues that may arise. Through the provisions in NFPA 1, which can assist fire code officials and inspectors enforce safe haunted houses, and NFPA's halloween resources for consumers, everyone can stay safe this season.
Thank you for reading, stay safe!