Ir­ish es­cape room op­er­a­tors em­pha­sise safety mea­sures after tragedy in Poland

Deaths of five teenage girls in Kosza­lin have brought re­newed fo­cus here

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS | REVIEW - Patrick Kelleher

The tragic deaths of five 15- year- old girls in an es­cape room in the Pol­ish city of Kosza­lin last week has re­sulted in a re­newed fo­cus on the safety of such es­tab­lish­ments across the world.

Es­cape rooms – still a rel­a­tively new form of re­cre­ation – op­er­ate on a sim­ple premise: a group of peo­ple must solve a se­ries of puz­zles to “es­cape” the room be­fore time runs out. They have be­come a pop­u­lar form of en­ter­tain­ment, an al­ter­na­tive night out, in re­cent years.

This tragedy oc­curred when the five girls went to an es­cape room on Fri­day, Jan­uary 4th, to cel­e­brate one of their birth­days. In the es­cape room, they were locked in and tasked with solv­ing a se­ries of puz­zles in or­der to get out. But the girls never es­caped.

Dur­ing their 60 min­utes in the room, a fire broke out as a re­sult of a leak in a gas cylin­der that was be­ing used to heat the premises, in­ves­ti­ga­tors have said. The five teenag- ers re­port­edly died from in­hal­ing car­bon monox­ide in the small room they were try­ing to get out of.

A pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found that the es­cape room – which was based in a pri­vate house – failed to meet ba­sic safety stan­dards and had seem­ingly never been in­spected.

Joint fu­neral

The girls – who have been iden­ti­fied by their first names in the me­dia as Ju­lia, Amelia, Mal­go­rzata, Karolina and Wik­to­ria – were buried on Thurs­day in a ceme­tery in Kosza­lin after a joint fu­neral took place ear­lier that day.

News agency Pol­ish PAP has re­ported that the man who ran the es­cape room was ar­rested last Sun­day and has been charged with “cre­at­ing the dan­ger of a fire in the es­cape room and with un­in­ten­tion­ally caus­ing the death of peo­ple in a fire”.

The man has al­legedly de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

While es­cape rooms have been op­er­at­ing across the world for more than a decade, this is the first tragedy of its kind as­so­ci­ated with them.

The first es­cape room opened in Ja­pan more than 10 years ago, and the con­cept has be­come a money spin­ner world­wide since then. There are es­ti­mated to be more than 1,000 op­er­at­ing in Poland alone – al­though more than 50 have been closed for fail­ing to meet safety stan­dards since last week’s tragedy. There are also es­ti­mated to be more than 1,000 es­cape rooms in the United King­dom, and a large num­ber has sprung up in Ire­land in re­cent years too.

In the past five years, es­cape rooms have be­come a pop­u­lar fea­ture in Ire­land’s cities. TripAd­vi­sor lists more than 10 in Dublin alone, with a num­ber of es­cape rooms also ap­pear­ing in Gal­way and Cork. There are also es­cape rooms op­er­at­ing in Lim­er­ick, Water­ford, Athlone, Kil­lar­ney and West­port, among oth­ers.

One of those es­cape rooms is called Es­cape Boats, a Dublin-based busi­ness that op­er­ates in Grand Canal Dock and of­fers par­tic­i­pants the chance to take part in an es­cape room on a boat.

Ro­nan Brady, co-owner of the com­pany, says that the tragedy in Poland has brought about a re­newed fo­cus on es­cape rooms as many peo­ple did not know what they were be­fore the in­ci­dent made head­lines.

“It’s an ab­so­lutely hor­rific and tragic ac­ci­dent,” Brady says. “I feel ab­so­lutely aw­ful for the girls who died and their fam­i­lies. What should have been a fun evening has turned their lives up­side down. It has re­ally shaken the es­cape room com­mu­nity of en­thu­si­asts and op­er­a­tors world­wide.”

Brady hopes that those who are hes­i­tant about go­ing to an es­cape room after the tragedy will con­tact an op­er­a­tor and ask them about the safety mea­sures they have in place. Safety is para­mount for Es­cape Boats, with Brady ex­plain­ing that “no­body is locked in at any time” dur­ing the game.

“Play­ers can leave any time they like by sim­ply walk­ing out. All of the sec­tions of the game have two ex­its and our fire ex­its are clearly marked. Play­ers are never more than 12ft from an exit in the game,” he ex­plains.

He also says that teams are mon­i­tored con­stantly through CCTV and au­dio while they are in the es­cape room. This is to en­sure the safety of the play­ers and also to of­fer hints if a team is strug­gling.

Fur­ther­more, Es­cape Boats has a num­ber of emer­gency ex­its which open au­to­mat­i­cally in the event of an emer­gency or power fail­ure. Brady says that es­cape rooms have be­come hugely pop­u­lar in Ire­land in re­cent years.

When Es­cape Boats first opened in 2017, there were just three op­er­a­tors in Dublin. There are now more than 10.

Mean­while, Arka­diusz Jam­ski, who is the founder of Asyl­room Es­cape Rooms which op­er­ates in Gal­way and Lim­er­ick, says the in­ci­dent in Poland is “a mas­sive tragedy”.

Jam­ski – who is orig­i­nally from Poland – says he does not want to judge whose fault the tragedy was, how­ever, he ex­presses con­cern at the size of the room the girls died in, which was re­port­edly just over 7sq m (75sq ft).

“Seven square me­tres is maybe for a cou­ple,” Jam­ski says. “The small­est room that we have is about 15sq m or some­thing, and we al­low around five peo­ple into that room so ev­ery­one has space to do some­thing.”

Jam­ski says that es­cape rooms in Ire­land are con­stantly in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, and that, since the tragedy in Poland, cus­tomers have be­come more aware of their safety fea­tures. “Peo­ple didn’t have a sin­gle ques­tion back then about the safety, but now the groups ask us,” he says.

Like Es­cape Boats, Asyl­room Es­cape Rooms has CCTV and a mem­ber of staff watches groups at all times dur­ing the game.

“We are pre­pared for al­most any ac­ci­dent, which hope­fully won’t hap­pen of course, but we are pre­pared,” he ex­plains.

Jam­ski also says that an out­side com­pany sup­plies them with fire ex­tin­guish­ers and comes in and checks them pe­ri­od­i­cally to en­sure that they are work­ing cor­rectly.

Brady of Es­cape Boats hopes that the re­cent tragedy in Poland will make es­cape room op­er­a­tors even more safety con­scious.

“If any good can come from this, it is that op­er­a­tors world­wide will be pay­ing very close at­ten­tion to their safety fea­tures and do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to en­sure the safety of the play­ers in the fu­ture,” he says.

Flow­ers and can­dles are laid at the site of the es­cape room fire tragedy in Kosza­lin. PHO­TO­GRAPH: MARCIN BIELECKI/EPA Hugely pop­u­lar

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