5 Dead, 1 Injured in Polish Escape Room Fire

Updated 12:51pm Eastern:
Additional information has been added. 
Updated 12:05pm Eastern:
All suspicions previously published, confirmed. 

Heartbroken and infuriated best sums up my mindset as I write this piece.

A dying rose against a black backdrop.

What Happened?

I can confirm the following information:

  • There was a fire and an explosion in an escape room in Koszalin, Poland on January 4, 2019.
  • Two reliable sources have confirmed that this tragedy occurred at the To Nie Pokój escape room.
  • Five 15-year-old girls were killed from smoke inhalation while celebrating a birthday.
  • A 26-year-old gamemaster was seriously injured. It has been reported that he tried to help the girls in the room.
  • The fire broke out in the lobby as a result of an unsealed gas cylinder. The girls were locked in a room with no emergency exit.
  • Polish authorities have instructed the chief commander of the State Fire Brigade to conduct inspections of all escape room facilities. Many companies have received inspections today.
  • In absence of clear escape room safety standards, fire inspectors are applying arbitrary safety standards to the escape rooms that they are inspecting. From region to region, inspectors are focusing on different problems, some more significant than others.
  • A result of the uneven inspections is that in some instances, good escape room companies are being denied the right to operate, while some bad companies are being given clearance.
  • Many companies in Poland are experiencing cancellations or calls asking questions about safety from their customers who had booked games prior to the fire.
  • This story has made international news.

My Thoughts

The thought of 5 girls entering an escape room to celebrate a birthday and never leaving breaks my heart and enrages me.

For years we have been writing about safety in escape rooms. Lisa and I have appeared on stage at conferences in four different countries (one of them being Poland) and spoken of the need for all escape room companies to make fire safety a top priority. While a great many escape room businesses abide by fire codes and think through their safety protocol, not all of them do, especially the bottom tier of the industry.

I wrote this post on fire safety while I was in Poland last year. I’m not going to reiterate my thoughts on the subject here.

One additional thought: any escape room operator who isn’t interested in fire safety should close their doors for good.

Speculation

Based on what I am hearing, I suspect that the owners of the escape room company in question will be charged with criminal negligence.

Effects on Poland

This may be a meteor strike to the Polish escape room market. We won’t know the effects for some time.

I suspect that many companies in Poland will not survive the coming months because they will not be able to meet safety standards.

I think that the Polish player base has shrunk dramatically and permanently as a consequence of this tragedy.

In addition to questions about what kind of standards will emerge in Poland, these questions remain: how much damage has been done to the player base? Will this strangle additional Polish escape room companies that do meet safety standards?

International Effects

This is in the press (CNN, Polish news website in translation). We don’t know how far it will go or which countries will internalize this news. I suspect that the answer is “many” and rightfully so.

I assume that fire inspectors everywhere will be aware of this incident, and will tighten the reins on escape room companies within their jurisdictions. Fire safety should be paramount.

I suspect that some countries will pass legislation regulating escape rooms or, more likely, loop escape rooms into already existing amusement legislation. This will force all companies to take safety issues more seriously, and probably force many out of business.

I hope that this tragedy does not stain the entire industry. There are many people who already had an inherent fear of the concept of an escape room. For those who seek validation, this tragedy will serve to confirm those fears.

In our experience, the overwhelming majority of escape rooms do not lock players in. This fact has not been adequately conveyed by the news pieces that I have read covering this story, all of which included passages akin to the BBC’s, “Escape rooms, in which participants are locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles in order to get out, are popular around the world.” This will undoubtedly instill additional fear in readers.

A Change for Room Escape Artist

Starting this year, our reviews will call out whether or not the company locks players in without an easily accessed emergency exit. We’ve frequently discussed it, but this will become a permanent fixture in our reviews moving forward.

We are not in a position to judge compliance with fire safety laws or guidelines, but we can do more to shine a light on companies that are obviously failing in their duties to their players.

A Change For Escape Room Owners

We love escape rooms. We love this industry. It’s time for every escape room operator to decide that they want to contribute to a safe escape room market. Or get the hell out.

There is an escape room creator who just spent their first night trying to sleep with the lives of 5 girls weighing on their conscience.

There are 5 girls whose parents just spent their first night looking at empty beds.

This shouldn’t have happened and it should never happen again.

12 thoughts on “5 Dead, 1 Injured in Polish Escape Room Fire

  1. Lisa and David thank you so much for sharing this story and your thoughts. Has an escape room owner myself I hold fire safety at a very high regard here in Arizona we own an escape room that has full sprinklers we’ve put in smoke alarms and we have several fire extinguishers on site to ensure that if something like this ever happens we’re ready to go. At our facility no one is ever locked in the rooms we offer a task to complete rather than a actual locked door to get out of. I now have the families of those girls and those girls themselves in my prayers and I hope that something like this can be avoided in the future, even though it should have never happened in the first place I do hope that if the company did know about the gas leak they are found neglectful and heads roll. Again thank you for sharing this and I hope you two have a wonderful start to your New Year even though this tragedy in our industry has just happened.

    1. Thank you Shawn. Sorry for the slow response to you and others. After putting most of our weekend into writing and updating this post, we needed to take a step away from this story.

      We’re thrilled to hear how you operate, and believe that this is how escape rooms in general ought to approach mission design and fire safety.

  2. Yes. There is a big difference between riding a roller coaster and having some idiot put you in a shopping cart and push you down a hill. The difference is the providers care for the participants.
    A true attraction creator is fanatical about the fun party they are throwing and making sure everyone has a good time and exits with everything intact.
    I have made and have friends who have made extreme attractions where participants are confined and moved around physically (which is not at all what happens in most escape rooms, including my current stuff), and everyone has been obsessed with keeping people safe.
    People who go to these things should feel that way. They are experiencing intense moments in a way that is ultimately safe. Like a roller coaster that is worked on by brilliant engineers.

    1. John, the roller coaster analogy is perfect.

      I know from our own embarrassing experience of accidentally bringing somewhat inebriated teammates to your facility how well you guys handled safety. Years later, we remain impressed with the way you guys ran your business.

  3. This is a tragedy on many levels and hurts in many ways. I grieve for the families of those lost and injured. I lament the connection to an industry that I love.

    Trust is hard to build and easy to lose. It is a vitally important element of our industry. Losing lives should never be part of the escape room equation.

  4. This is an unspeakable tragedy. I want to say I can’t believe that what we feared most has happened—but it’s not that hard to believe.

    While it’s about damn time the carnies of the industry get shut down, I fear for the impact this tragedy may have on businesses who are operating responsibly.

    But, since I am an optimist who wants to see even some tiny light in the darkness, I’ll hope this is the moment that escape rooms move away from locked doors entirely—a shift I would love to see. The genre needs to admit it’s outgrown its cheap, fear-instilling tricks to motivate players. Players nowadays come motivated by a sense of discovery, an eagerness to have fun—or perhaps even to see the story brought to a satisfying conclusion. In a good game, a locked door adds nothing. NOTHING. And even with an exit button, it risks too much.

    This post earns a Standing Ovation. Please do call out irresponsible companies.

    1. Thank you. I truly believe that the escape room industry will emerge smarter and stronger for this, just as the Haunt industry did after the 1984 fire that claimed the lives of 8 teenagers. I’m just so sad that loss of life seems to be a prerequisite for getting *everyone* onboard with safe business practices.

  5. Totally agree – thank you so much for the gathering up the information – i linked to your article as well. Such a tragic story – i really hope it is a wakeup call for the “dark sheeps” in the industry who do not think about player safety enough

    1. Thank you and I appreciate your post as well. If the deaths aren’t a wakeup call for these folks, perhaps the owner of this facility serving prison time will.

  6. As a thirty year lock and security professional, I can say there is no reason for this kind of tragedy. There are dozens of ways to allow for safe egress and maintain the excitement of an escape room. Local authorities need to be sure they are enforcing existing codes. I’m not an expert on foreign countries, but I can tell you in Southern California it is absolutely illegal to lock anyone in a room unless they’re in jail. If any operator out there is unsure on the type of hardware to use I would be more than happy to consult with them free of charge on how best to achieve their goals. Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention and allowing us to give our points of view.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.