Jaycees Haunted House Given OK by County Commission to Open, But Questions Remain About Buildings at Fairgrounds

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Havre Jaycees Treasurer TJ Daulton says that the Hill County Commission has given them the green light to reopen, starting on Saturday, October 23rd.

Daulton says the Jaycees were able to fulfill a plethora of requirements in order to get their event approved.

“We had to make sure we got a fire truck up here so that we have one. We had to make sure we got smoke detectors put in, exit signs put up.”

Fair Manager Frank English says incoming interim County Attorney Brian Lilletvedt and Havre Mayor Tim Solomon also approved the arrangement.

Daulton said the last few days have been eventful as they worked from having their event canceled to reviving it.

“It’s been a few days for sure. I don’t want to say they were long or stressful, but they were interesting to say the least. I’m just glad everything was able to come together with all the work everybody put in. We just want to thank everybody for the support that they’ve shown us in support of this event. We’re just happy it’s going to happen. I’m happy it’s going to happen.”

Daulton says although they were able to make arrangements to hold this event at the Fairgrounds Commercial Building this year, they may have to find another location for the future.

“We may have to move it again next year. There’s options out there for us. I don’t have any specifics for sure, so I don’t want to discuss any of that. But there’s a possibility. Or we might still be able to work with the Fairgrounds and the County Commissioner and see if we can come up with some kind of a gameplan and maybe even come back up here next year.”

Hill County Fire Warden/DES Coordinator/Rural Fire 1 Co-Code Enforcement Officer Amanda Frickel says she is glad that this issue finally reached a resolution.

“I am so happy that the Jaycees were able to meet the requirements and make it happen. They are an asset to the community, so this was a win. Everybody got on the same page, and that’s what problem-solving takes sometimes. And hopefully in the future, the (Rural Fire 1) board can adopt a policy so that events can take place safely, efficiently, and violation-free.”

The hours of the Haunted House are 7 PM-Midnight on Fridays, Saturdays, and Halloween, and 7-10 PM this Sunday-Thursday.

No-scare hours are on Saturdays from 5:30-6:30 PM.

The Hill County Commission and Mayor Tim Solomon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


The initial story is below

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – The future of this year’s Havre Jaycees Haunted House, scheduled for the Commercial Building at the Great Northern Fair Grounds, is unclear.

This comes after numerous Hill County Officials, the Havre Jaycees, and other local organizations held an emergency meeting on Friday morning at the County Courthouse.

The Hill County Commission had said they would make an official announcement sometime Friday as to whether the Haunted House could proceed. They were also deliberating whether there could be a concert on Halloween weekend at the Bigger Better Barn.

Fair Manager Frank English told New Media Broadcasters on Friday evening that if they are not permitted to hold the concert at the Bigger Better Barn, they will hold it at the Outdoor Beer Garden.

An email from Commissioner Mark Peterson early Friday afternoon said they are “working on language that might help the Jaycees be able to do their event,” and are also “trying to be sure we can meet the fire code on the concert.”

He says the Escape Room and a rural 4-H club event can proceed after making modifications.

TJ Daulton of the Havre Jaycees says the contract for the Haunted House with the Fairgrounds was signed  in mid-September. He says they have attempted to take numerous precautions to make their event fire safe, such as limiting building capacity to no more than 40, leaving some doors unlocked, buying and installing smoke detectors if possible, and making sure that young children are supervised.

However, Rural Fire 1 Co-Code Enforcement Officer Amanda Frickel and Hill County Chair Diane McLean say due to the fact that this is considered a special event, there is no way to fix deficiencies with the building in enough time to hold this event while meeting the qualifications for a special amusement.

“The building doesn’t rise to the level of the requirement for any kind of sprinkler system because of the square footage, because of the usage of it, there’s not fixed seating, there’s not going to be food or drink,” said McLean. “The place that it kind of falls down is that it is a special amusement situation, and there are some stipulations with that that are difficult to meet.”

“The fire suppression system is a big concern,” says Frickel. “Especially for the Haunted House. That’s why it’s specified in the fire code at the state level. And this is once again, this is at the state level…It’s not a county thing, it’s not an indiviualized event thing. It’s a standard from the state. So if that standard isn’t met, that’s where you run into problems.”

Communication Concerns

One theme from the meeting was that there has been a consistent gap in communication between parties about the rules regarding fire codes and their enforcement.

“Quite frankly (the Fair Board and event planners) didn’t know the rules. Quite frankly, we didn’t know the rules,” said Peterson. “The County was basically made aware at the beginning of (this) week of what events were going to happen…That was the first notice we had of it that these events were going on. So the ball has been dropped in several locations and we’re just trying to get it in order. And there’s going to be some hurt feelings along the way, I’m sure, because of the way we’ve gone forth and are trying to do things. But please bear with us. And let’s find a way in the future that we can make these things happen. Because we feel that the community is the one that is losing.”

“It’s a hard place to sit, listening to both sides of this,” McLean said. “Because you’re on public property. And there probably should have been more oversight from my Chair, as Commission Chair, there probably should have been a lot more oversight on this event going forward, knowing that (the Fair Board only has two voting members), that it was a pretty skeleton crew…It’s not a heavy hand that we want to come down with. We do not want to stop events. Did we use our best judgements as these events were forming? Perhaps not. It’s a little bit of an excuse to say we’ve been pretty busy, but it’s been true as well. So I hope that the public will give us some grace as we do move forward with this.”

“There was nobody that came to me or the Commissioners or the County Attorney and said ‘Here’s our list of events, here’s what we’re planning to hold, what do we need to do in order to make sure that we’re up to state with this? Nobody did that,” Frickel said. “It was announced on radio and the paper and that was it…So letting everybody in this room know, that is how all this happened on Monday when we received a poster saying we’re having these events. Basically what it falls down to is we all just need to learn that we’re going to have to do a different type of protocol, a different type of procedure. It’s not a we don’t want that or you can’t do that. It’s just that these are the things we are now required to enforce.”

“That’s good to know,” said Fairgrounds Secretary Anita Stevenson in response. “Because now I can say to (Fairgrounds Manager) Frank English, that if we’re organizing something, get an email to Amanda.”

English was not at the meeting on Friday.

Fire Code Issues

Fire code issues with buildings at the Fairgrounds has been known for months if not years, but it had not been an issue for holding events until recently. That is because there had not been little to no enforcement of fire codes in Rural Fire 1 until the recent contract between the District and the City was signed in mid-September. The Havre Fire Department has been providing fire suppression to the District for years, but the City recently terminated the previous contract in order to ensure that a new contract would be drawn up with wording on enforcement in the District.

If either side is found to be in violation of the contract, the other side can withdraw.

“We have a fire agreement with Rural Fire 1 and the City,” Peterson said. “And Rural Fire 1 worked very, very hard to finally get an agreement. And one aspect of that agreement is that we need to work with the Fire Marshal and follow rules. That’s kind of a short paraphrase of it, but that’s what it is. So everything we do in our decision is going to go back to that. Because we are not going to put that agreement in jeopardy.”

“In order to get that agreement, as a County, we had to offer more stringent expectations when public buildings, public areas are used,” McLean said. “And now we’re on the other side of that. The public (was) demanding and pointing in our face saying ‘You need to do this for our safety.’ Now, we’re on the flip side of that, where everybody is like ‘Why are you making such a big deal of this?’ We’re living in times that are pretty explosive at times, and people get riled up pretty easy. And this whole situation was maybe jacked out of context from the get-go with a precautionary email from our County Attorney wondering whether or not these things had been taken care of.”

Frickel says violations in the buildings at the Fairgrounds have been brought up at previous meetings involving Rural Fire 1.

“Mayor (Tim Solomon) did in fact actually name these violations specifically for the fair buildings. Those were actually named as violations.”

A public meeting is scheduled for 2 PM this upcoming Wednesday at the 4-H Chuckwagon at the Great Northern Fairgrounds to discuss fire codes and the potential impact on events at the Fairgrounds. Peterson says a virtual option will be available. Acting State Fire Marshal Dirk Johnson has been invited, and tells New Media Broadcasters he plans on attending.

Fire Marshal Involvement

Deputy Fire Marshal/Acting State Fire Marshal Dirk Johnson issued a statement yesterday saying he did not shut the event down, and Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said Friday that Johnson would not be speaking with the County about fire codes for the time being.

“The Deputy Fire Marshal (Dirk Johnson) informed me last night that he was no longer going to be  communicating with us on fire codes until we had the Department of Labor produce the ratings for the buildings on the Fairgrounds. So we will proceed with that. Hopefully we will be able to get those ratings and go back and look at each building and understand what it is capable of and not capable of,” Peterson said.

Dirk Johnson provided the following statement to New Media Broadcasters Friday afternoon about the allegation from Commissioner Mark Peterson that he will not speak to the Commission until the Department of Labor provides building ratings:

As you state it here, this is false. In fact, I offered yesterday to drive to Havre and meet with Commissioner Mark Peterson but the offer was declined. Following that, I accepted an invitation to answer questions at a public meeting next week and said I would like the county to first provide me with occupancy types so that I can give accurate responses to Hill County residents. I’m attaching a letter sent to the county commission and fairgrounds personnel in March offering to look ahead and ensure that there are roadblocks should a formal inspection later be requested for a large event. That said, I also reiterate that the State Fire Marshal’s Office has not received any requests to do an inspection or issued any sort of ‘shutdown’ order for Halloween-related events at the fairgrounds.

“(Johnson) was completely bombarded with questions, information from 20 different people going to his office,” said Frickel. “And incorrect information. And I think at this point, the Fair Board and the County have been made aware of the violations and the code problems since March, and I think it’s probably the fact that (nothing) has been done to (rectify) that or bring it up to code. And that’s probably where their office is sitting at. How are they supposed to move forward or help if we aren’t helping ourselves make that better?”

A letter sent to Fair Manager Frank English and the County Commission from Johnson back in March laid out the issues with numerous buildings at the Fairgrounds and how they fail to meet fire codes for certain events.

Peterson has insisted that Johnson recently sent him an email saying the Haunted House was a “no-go,” but that email has not been provided to local media, and Johnson has denied this.

“We have an email that he basically said ‘no-go.'” said Peterson.


Both Commissioner Mark Peterson and Hill County Fire Warden/DES Coordinator/Rural Fire 1 Co-Code Enforcement Officer Amanda Frickel stated that threats have been made against them since the initial decision to cancel the Haunted House was made earlier in the week.

“We’re going to take those threats very, very seriously,” Peterson said. “So if people are out there thinking about doing it on Facebook or whatever, that’s going to be addressed.”

Frickel said the threats against her came in the form of phone calls from unknown numbers.

Governor’s Involvement

During the meeting, McLean said that someone made a call to the office of Governor Greg Gianforte on Thursday.

It is unclear who contacted the Governor’s office about this situation and what their involvement was. The Governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

This story has been updated

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