It's been 40 years since Captain Bludzwurth has seen the interior of East Lake Fire Rescue, Station No. 57. The ex-firefighter was expelled from his duties when it was discovered that he was an arsonist, not to mention insane. Now he's back for revenge, fire axe and all.
He's turned the station's equipment bay — all 4,000 square feet of it — into a turning, twisting maze of terror.
The Haunted Fire House will be open every Friday and Saturday night in October as well as on Halloween night — Monday, Oct. 31.
Guests will be warned to "Fear the Captain."
"It's pretty scary and gory," said District Chief Bill Edling. "It's better than people will expect it to be." The attraction is recommended for mature audiences; children younger than 13 will not be admitted without an adult.
Along with frightening fun, the firefighters hope to deliver a powerful message aimed at the hard-to-reach teen drivers and young adults: Don't text and drive.
As visitors head for the haunted house, they'll pass a gory accident scene where a decapitated driver lays next to a mashed-up automobile and a bloodied cell phone. A sign reads, "I wuz txt-n n driv-n."
Fire Chief Tom Jamison said distracted drivers pose a real problem for everyone on the road. In the East Lake District alone, firefighters responded to 217 auto crashes in 2010 and 162 through August of this year.
"The main reason for this haunted house was to get that message out," he said.
Inside visitors will see the coffin of Dexter the texter, MHRIP (May he rest in peace). Another coffin contains a mirror in the bottom, perhaps to trigger some self-reflection.
Some 16 scenes manned by 21 volunteer cast members include a campground, morgue, slaughterhouse and prison, all enhanced with creepy sounds and strange lighting.
And if you didn't have a fear of clowns before, get ready to become coulrophobic.
Glow sticks are available for guests who may be faint at heart. They will signal actors to tamp down their scares.
Edling said what makes this haunted house a standout are the professional props, which were purchased used from a haunted house attraction, the Bludzwurth Casket and Urn Company in Davenport, between Lakeland and Orlando.
"They are really high-end," Edling said. "We paid $5,000 for them and they're valued at $20,000."
Tickets are $5 each; $3 for fire, police and military personnel. A "Quick Kill" limited wait-time pass is available for $15. Proceeds, if any, benefit East Lake Fire Rescue's Honor Guard and annual Appreciation Banquet.
Last weekend's inaugural haunt was a startling success.
"We have had over 400 people attend in the first two days of operation, which has exceeded our expectations," said Jamison. "Any costs associated with the project should be recouped within its first year of operation."
The haunted firehouse was built by the firefighters with help and donations from local businesses and the community.
"It meets all the fire codes," Edling said.
Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org