Our CEO expresses his sympathy to those lost in the escape room fire
ESCAPE ROOM FIRE.
You may have seen the terrible news that five 15 year old girls died in a fire in an escape room in Poland. This is clearly devastating news and our deepest sympathies go out to all of families involved.
Let me state quite categorically that this would never happen in an Escapology venue and I shall explain why as it is very simple - YOU ARE NOT LOCKED IN. That may come as a shock to anyone who has never played an escape game before and frankly it was a surprise to me when I first took up this business. Surely you have to be locked in? Well no, you don’t. And in the USA the fire marshalls, who do a sterling job, will make damn sure that no-one is locked in. Players have the “illusion” that they are locked in and at Escapology we have no watched over 750,000 often in sheer panic trying to ‘escape’ - but the reality is, is that the door is open. In our venues it’s the same as any regular office door - turn the handle - and you’re out.
The most ‘locked-in’ I have seen in the USA is a ‘fail safe’ strike lock (or maglock) and I’ll explain how that works for anyone reading that doesn’t know. These locks work (generally) off a very low voltage and if the power is interrupted in any way - the lock opens. So if the power is “cut” it is no longer locked. Regulations for how this might work doesn’t really vary much in the US and basically they can’t go wrong. Or if they go wrong they’re “open”. And to “exit” typically you have to enter a code into a keypad (which cuts the power and opens the door) but to pass code there must also be a very clear and simple “PUSH TO EXIT” button which does the same job. Hence my earlier comment YOU ARE NOT LOCKED IN.
Having said that whilst I have not experienced anything personally, I have heard reports in the US of venues running “unregulated”. If that’s the case then I cannot comment other than to say I really hope that no-one is locked in and I hope regional fire marshalls check out all local escape room facilities thoroughly to make sure they are all up to code. Unfortunately back in Europe I have been “locked in” and I hated it. Not necessarily from a safety point of view but because I get terrible claustrophobia. In future I will flatly refuse if I find a venue is seriously locking me in, but let’s hope some good can come from this terrible tragedy and that people wake up and realise you don’t need to be “locked in.”
A further fire safety rule in the US is that fire marshalls quite rightly insist we fit sprinklers. So combine the fact you’re not locked in with a thorough system to extinguish any sign of fire very quickly then you can see that a properly regulated and ran facility is 100% safe. It’s the same level of danger of working in a small office where you might have a small office of your own. And an even further step of safety is that every group playing one of our games (it may differ in some places but it is usually the case) are constantly being watched in their every move by a qualified Game Master through CCTV throughout each game.
Interestingly I have read some of the comments in the press regarding the Polish tragedy and it scares the living daylights out of me. Read this statement: “There should be a moderator in each location able to unlock the rooms and let people out. We will check this and it will be strictly controlled.” Is this serious? JUST DON’T LOCK PEOPLE IN!! This comment relies on a human being, in what is likely to be a very stressful situation, to unlock a door if a fire breaks out. I can’t help thinking instinct will be telling many people to run like hell! So NO Poland, NO!
Seriously I will reiterate that the “locked in” feeling totally exists in a venue like ours where the door is basically wide open. Not once in 750,000+ people has anyone reported “actually I was disappointed that the door was actually open all the time” (or words to that effect). Not once. And we’ve had tens of thousands of reviews with an average 97.4% customer satisfaction rating. But you cannot please everyone but no-one, not one single person, mentioned the door not being locked. Once you are immersed in the experience the panic feels real. The tension is overwhelming. You don’t even think about the door - you’re just doing everything you can to find that elusive code that will ‘set you free’ within your 60 minute adventure. On the flip side I think I hear almost daily, and nervously, “are you actually locked in” often followed by “I’d hate that”. Once I explain what I explain here it’s often a huge relief followed by a booking. Similar to my own experience when my friend first suggested Escapology as a business idea - my words were virtually identical “you’re locked in a room for 60 minutes and have to escape?? No way Jose I’m got the worlds worst claustrophobia count me out!” It was only after a trip to Escape Hunt in London (a well run and well regulated business as far as I know) that my fears were alleviated - the door was open! And like everyone we have witnessed - we had a fantastic time in virtual panic for most of the hour before the euphoria of the ‘escape’. But being honest the “not being locked in” was my favourite part!!
So I appeal to Poland and I appeal to the escape game industry as a whole. DON’T LOCK PEOPLE IN. Then this industry will continue to skyrocket and give people the thrills we know it can and be 100% safe for everyone involved.
It’s heartbreaking to think that five young girls, innocently enjoying a birthday treat have lost their lives in this tragic accident. But please let common sense prevail and hopefully this will be a one off event never to be repeated.
Hopefully my comments here can help influence the industry in a tiny way that could make an enormous difference. With 60 venues under our wing we’re either the biggest escape room going or certainly one of them and we pride ourselves on running a professional - and 100% safe - experience at every one of our sites. Without locking people in.
Founder and CEO - Escapology LLC.
“General Leszek Suski (Polish fire brigades chief commander) has issued a decision that from tomorrow all escape rooms, game centers and clubs will undergo fire safety inspections with special attention paid to evacuation plans, escape routes in these type of locations,” Tomasz Kubiak, a Koszalin fire brigade officer, told TVN.
Firefighters inspected nearly 200 facilities across Poland over the weekend. They said more than 100 were found to be unsafe and 13 were immediately shut down.