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Power line, tent pole lead to Jamboree deaths

The event rental industry has reacted with sorrow and regret to the deaths last week of four adult volunteers at the Boy Scouts’ 2005 National Jamboree in Caroline County, Va. The men were electrocuted when they lost control of the center pole of a dining tent they were pitching under a power line. The 10-day Jamboree, which concludes today, is expected to draw more than 35,000 Boy Scouts and leaders from throughout the U.S.

In October, three workers in Arkansas died when they carried an intact tent over a fence and accidentally touched a power line.


The confusion caused by the crowds of eager Scouts and volunteers, coupled with the blistering heat, probably contributed to the failure to follow safe tent-installation practices, a local rental operator who prefers to remain anonymous tells Special Events Magazine. “How do you spell ‘recipe for disaster’?” he asks. Most rental operators estimate the tent in question was 40 by 40 feet. At press time, calls to the Boys Scouts of America National Council had not been returned.

Compounding the pain is the fact that following basic safety rules could have prevented the tragedy. The accident was “definitely avoidable,” says James “Smitty” Smith, general manager of Kirby Rental Service in Orlando, Fla. ( “Not siting the area thoroughly is one of the largest causes of problems in the tent business."

“Accidents like this can happen to any tent company that does not pay attention to the dangers that are all around them,” notes Dan Hooks, CERP, president of Party Reflections in Charlotte, N.C. ( “Customers will certainly test the limits of safety when trying to put a tent in the ‘perfect spot’ for the event. We have been asked to erect a tent and then slide it under power lines before. Power lines are to be taken very seriously and respected by everyone on the sales team and the installation crew.”


Site surveys and other safety procedures are part of the tenting component offered in the Certified Event Rental Professional program from the Moline, Ill.-based American Rental Association.

The CERP program, designed for both employees and management, requires participants to complete coursework in three of eight disciplines, one of which is tenting. The tenting component covers the development of the tent rental industry including types of tents and accessories; the tent rental process from planning the installation to preparing the products; and tent setup and takedown.

CERP is a self-paced study program, which most students complete within one year. The program including registration, courses, final assessment and certification is $475. For more information or to download a registration form, visit the ARA Web site at

The Industrial Fabrics Association International, based in Roseville, Minn., offers its "Procedural Handbook for the Safe Installation and Maintenance of Tenting." Topics covered are site surveys, layouts, staking and anchoring, poles, sidewalls, tensioning a tent, and safety and maintenance. The 2004 edition is available on CD-ROM; to order, visit

Besides the training available from industry associations, several tent manufacturers offer seminars for rental companies.

Anchor Industries of Evansville, Ind., will stage its “Fall Classic” in October, a free one-day seminar on safe installation of the company’s tents. “We invite rental companies to come in and bring their crews,” notes marketing manager Brandy Spainhoward. “It’s very hands-on. They learn how to install our tents properly.”

The company also offers detailed installation instructions for its products. The PDF documents may be downloaded free from the company’s Web site at Several versions are also available in Spanish. The instructions cover topics such as manpower and tools required and cautionary notes urging site inspections.


“As tent installers, the tools necessary for safe tent installations are in place,” notes Jan Schieffer, managing director of IFAI's Tent Rental Division. “A site survey is the first of many important steps in the total organization of any safe tent rental function or event.”

“This is really just common-sense stuff,” adds Dan Skena, owner of Pittsburgh Party & Tent Rental (, Monroeville, Pa., and chairman of ARA’s Party and Special Events Special Interest Group. “Unfortunately, common sense isn’t all that common.”

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