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