When Fire Chief Tal Grissett was thinking of ways his fire department could raise funds to support their firehouse, he never dreamed he would end up overseeing one of the biggest and most successful haunted trails in the region. But with 4,500 visitors to the Grissettown Longwood Haunted Trail last year, there is no doubt that this is now a seasonal success.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Christian Viera
In 2008 Grissett’s firefighters and some dedicated volunteers came together to build, from scratch and with their own hands, their first haunted trail. And they did it in one month. Even with the limited time to publicize, about 400 people came through the trail that first Halloween season. That’s when they knew they were on to something. Since then, attendance has gone up by 10 to 5 percent every year.
“I have only been to one haunted trail in my entire life,” Grissett says. “But we have fun putting this together, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, what will scare people. It is just fun.”
This year Grissettown Longwood Fire and Rescue started building and creating the trail in July and they spent more than 1,000 combined hours on it. Each year it gets a little bigger, and every year they add something different.
“It takes a lot of work,” Grissett says. “But it has turned into a big fundraiser for us and helps our financial needs here. We get paid per square footage of new structures being built. So if there isn’t much building going on in our area, we aren’t getting much. So the trail helps augment the budget so we can meet our community needs.”
While Grissett is adamant that they “don’t do gross,” they have managed to frighten some grown men to fleeing and a few women to fainting. The trail has been recognized as the Best Haunted Attraction in Southeast North Carolina twice.
The Grissettown firefighters have obviously become experts in the field of haunted trails. They have sensor-controlled spooks, animatronics, detailed make-up effects, handmade silicone masks, haunted buses, trailers built to walk through and more. Their reputation has spread, and now many professional haunted trails will come to Grissett to figure out how his group does it. They leave astonished at the resourcefulness and creativity.
But to Grissett, the trail is about more than fundraising and reputation.
“We are very community-oriented, we want to provide what the community needs,” he says. “This is just one part of it. And it helps our morale. Morale is everything in the fire service. This brings us together. We actually have people from other fire departments come out and help us, too.”
Grissett knows a thing about this community, too. Born and raised in the town, which was named after his family, he began as a volunteer firefighter in 2001 and became a full time firefighter in 2004, when the family’s tobacco farm business began to diminish. He is proud of how the trail benefits not only his firehouse, but also his neighbors.
“I went to the local gas station last year and the woman told me, ‘I can tell when you all do the Haunted Trail because our business picks up,’” he says. “So it brings in customers to local businesses.”
Grissett oversees a staff of six full-time employees, six part-time and eight to ten volunteers at his fire station. They respond to 750 calls a year, and their primary source of funding is their annual haunted trail.
He wants folks to come out and have a good time this fall; he doesn’t mind being proud of the hours of work by creative and dedicated Grissettown Longwood Fire and Rescue volunteers.
Want to go?
The District 31 Haunted Trail, hosted by Grissettown Longwood Fire & Rescue will be held at 758 Longwood Road, Ocean Isle Beach on October weekends and on Halloween. There is no age limit, and entry is $10 per person. Call 910-287-3030 or visit www.grissettownfire.com for more information.