In the wake of the tragedy that recently occurred in a Polish escape room, I felt compelled to write an article about fire safety. Fire is a hazard that affects any business, but the danger is especially acute in the escape room context. Given that five girls just died as a result of being locked in an escape room near a fire, the escape game industry needs to be all the more vigilant when it comes to preventing and responding to fires.
Below are some general tips about fire safety, but be sure to research the specific building codes and fire safety regulations in your jurisdiction.
Install and Maintain Smoke Alarms:
Smoke alarms are very important, because they can give you early warning of a fire and give you a chance to evacuate. Be sure to buy a reliable smoke alarm system—preferably one where the alarms in different rooms are interconnected (one sounds, they all do).
Do not just install an alarm and forget about it! You must check the alarm on a regular basis. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends that homeowners test their smoke alarms at least once a month, and replace the batteries at least once or twice a year.
In addition, be sure to replace smoke alarms when they get old—typically 10 years old, but check the lifespan of the specific smoke alarm product you buy.
Finally, be aware that some of the guests playing your escape game may be hearing-impaired. You may want to consider a smoke alarm that has strobe lights, or other features, in addition to an alarm sound.
Install and Inspect Fire Extinguishers:
Make sure you buy Fire extinguishers for your escape room so small fires can be put out before they spread. It is important that you keep the fire extinguishers in places that are visible and easily accessible. You also need to train your staff so they know how to use them properly.
You must check fire extinguishers regularly to ensure they are fully charged and functional. OSHA regulations specify monthly visual inspections to examine the unit for physical damage, check the pressure gauge, and to make sure the pull pin is intact. In addition, you should have a professional fire protection company perform annual maintenance inspections of your fire extinguishers.
Consider Installing a Sprinkler System:
While it may seem like a pricey option for a small escape room business, a fire sprinkler system could stop a fire from injuring people and destroying your whole business. Sprinkler systems automatically release water when a certain temperature is reached, or other effects of a fire are detected. You need to make sure sprinkler heads are installed at the proper height, and you should check them regularly to make sure they have not been clogged or damaged in any way.
Make and Post An Evacuation Plan:
Your evacuation plan needs to outline exit routes and procedures in the case of a fire. Be sure to have at least two exits, in case one is blocked. In addition, consider things like poor visibility—install lighted exit signs, note the number of steps to an exit, etc.
It is important that all staff members understand the evacuation plan, and are able to assist guests. You should post the evacuation plan is a visible place, and perform regular fire drills so your staff become completely comfortable with it.
Check Electrical Wiring:
When you first build your escape room, make sure that all of the electrical work is done by a professional, and compliant with your areas building/fire codes. Make sure that electrical cords are checked regularly, and replaced if they have broken connectors or damaged insulation. Try to prevent circuits from becoming overloaded, and do not overuse/overheat electrical devices.
Keep Stairwells and Hallways Clear:
It is essential that escape routes are clear during a fire. Have your staff make sure that all hallways and stairwells are clean, and free of debris. Having designated storage area/lockers for guest items (and for escape room materials) will help keep things out of walking areas.
Check Appliances and Machinery:
Whether it is the computer in your game control room, or the water cooler in your lobby—it is important to regularly check, and turn off, machines. Be sure to leave a space behind computers, coffee makers, and other appliances so that air can circulate and keep them cool. Whenever possible, try to unplug machines at the end of each workday to ensure they do not overheat and cause a fire.
Smoke Only in Designated Areas:
It is essential that all staff and guests smoke only in designated areas outside the building. You should also provide proper ashtrays for extinguishing cigarettes safely, so people do not throw a still-lit cigarette onto the grass or into the garbage.
Many escape rooms recommend a certain number of players based on the size of the room and/or the number of puzzles in the game. However, room/building occupancy are also important when it comes to fire safety. If too many people are crammed in the building it can be hard for everyone to evacuate safely and quickly. While it may be tempting to sell a few extra tickets, make sure you limit the number of staff and guests in your escape room building to a safe number.
Report Any Concerns:
Train all of your staff to report fire hazards/concerns. If anyone smells gas, see sparks, etc. they must report it immediately so it can be repaired by a qualified professional.
Do Not Lock The Door:
The final and most important fire safety tip is not to lock players in the room! The illusion of being locked in a room is exciting, but it is not worth the risk. You can certainly deduct points or something if players leave during a game, but players need to be able to exit the room safely in case of a fire. Many escape rooms lock the door, but have a “emergency button” to release it. Even that may not be enough—if a room is filled with smoke it may be hard to find that button. It is simply safer to keep escape rooms unlocked.