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The City Journals

Zombies recruited to help Murray Fire Department

Jun 21, 2021 02:47PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Dead City performers, complete with fake wounds and real bandages, relax after being treated in a Murray FD mock drill. (Photo courtesy Tom Roberson)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Really, Murray City Fire Department recruited zombies to train their Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). The training has been so successful that Murray FD wants to do it on a regular basis.

It seems unusual for a fire department and a haunted house amusement attraction to join forces. But, when you consider all the fake blood and existing space filled with devastated scenery and dark-lit rooms, then a haunted house makes a natural place to train Murray residents to support emergency responders in a real-life disaster.

The idea of using Dead City Haunted House (5425 S. Vine St.) as a CERT training venue happened, quite literally, on accident.

“It only took one fire inspection to realize what an amazing environment this could be for CERT training,” Murray City Fire Department Assistant Chief Joey Mittelman said. 

Of course, the zombies/pretend victims were Dead City performers, who are well-practiced in the art of dramatic suffering. The performers were placed in specific scenarios that simulated disasters. Dead City’s costume and make-up department provided fake gashes and torn outfits to replicate certain conditions in which a CERT member might find a person who survived a calamity. 

According to CERT instructor Tom Roberson, Fire Inspector and Safety Education Coordinator George Zboril came up with the idea. “During his fire department responsibilities, George has developed a relationship with the owners of Dead City. He asked their permission to use the facility and they recruited volunteer ‘victims’ for us. They moulage (apply mock injuries) them to enhance the effect,” Roberson said.

Murray City FD began offering CERT to Murray residents 14 years ago. Over the past two years, Murray has been developing extended community relationships and reaching out to local neighborhood emergency preparedness groups and other organizations to offer this instruction. CERT training provides a base understanding of potential disasters such as earthquakes, windstorms, fires, HAZMAT, medical emergencies and more. The goal is to create Murray resident teams that can assist during those kinds of disasters.

The training comprises four classes, each two to three hours, mainly in the classroom, with some hands-on practice. The fifth class is a comprehensive hands-on learning experience. Practice situations include fire hazard awareness, fire chemistry, use of a fire extinguisher, hazardous materials awareness, natural gas emergencies, first aid and patient transport.

“The classes in this course are essentially the same as previous ones. The real bonus is the excellent facility and the make-up and acting by the Dead City staff,” Roberson said.

In the past, the hands-on training took place at a Murray FD firehouse or the emergency training base at the Salt Lake City Airport. Dead City, which spends most of the year prepping for their annual haunt fest (September through November) agreed that helping the fire department with training was a good use of their off-time. 

“We just utilize a couple of existing hallways and rooms [in the haunted house]; these were lights-out to encourage the students to work with headlamps and flashlights. We also used the entrance area for lifting and cribbing and the parking lot for fire extinguisher practice,” Roberson said.

Dead City applied spirit gum and plastic wounds, and the performers acted as though injured or in shock. Dead City’s talent for scares has been honored as one of the 2020 “Haunters to Watch” winners by HAuNTcon and Haunted Attraction Network. 

“Each time a CERT class is taught, they become better. We are learning what is crucial for our citizens and how to best test their knowledge of the skills learned throughout the course. Dead City has provided these advancements through hands-on practicality,” Mittelman said.  

CERT training is free for Murray residents. For $25, an emergency response backpack is available for participating students. Residents can find more information about Murray FD’s CERT program online at www.murray.utah.gov.