CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Five teenage girls were killed while playing a challenge room game in Poland. Now, Cleveland 19 is getting answers about if the games called “escape rooms” are safe.
The games are considered immersive puzzles. The goal of an escape room is to solve all the puzzles within a set amount of time to “escape” a room.
In the last few years, escape rooms have grown in popularity. They’re used for birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties and even corporate team building events.
In Poland, five teenage girls were participating in an escape room for a birthday party. The building caught fire, trapping them inside. Investigators in Poland said the escape room was part of a house.
It had no emergency evacuation route and other people even complained about the safety of that escape room site. A leaky gas container inside a heater is believed to have started the deadly fire.
Polish officials have since shut down 13 escape rooms due to safety concerns.
There are 16 escape rooms located in the Northeast Ohio area. Cleveland 19 News went inside one of them to see their safety protocols and to see if something went wrong, could you escape safely?
“We’re all horrified. I’ve got kids. I’m a parent. I wouldn’t anything to happen to a 15 year old anywhere,” said Diana Molchan, owner of Perplexity Games in Ohio City.
Since the fire in Poland, she said the escape room industry has been having conversations on how to make sure their rooms are safe. Molchan said fire inspectors have been doing surprise visits at escape rooms to make sure there are no unsafe situations.
“We had someone out just about two weeks ago and they came through our facility,” Molchan said.
In Ohio, there are no statewide requirements when it comes to escape room safety. Inspections are done by local fire and building departments where standards can be created, just by looking at the space. Most of those standards are just recommendations, like having emergency exit signs on the doors.
North Olmsted Fire Department Safety Inspector, Jerry Cifranic said because these businesses are still fairly new, many inspectors create recommendations just by looking at the escape rooms.
“We go and inspect to make sure what they built follows the blue prints,” Cifranic said.
For smaller, less extreme escape rooms, they’re subject to the same building and fire codes as any business. Others must follow what’s called a “special amusement code” like a haunted house, with more restrictive requirements, but unlike haunted houses and amusement parks that are inspected yearly, some escape rooms are only inspected every three years, depending on the city’s fire inspection schedules. In Cleveland, fire and building inspectors are tasked with inspecting thousands of businesses each year. The escape room in North Olmsted has been inspected four times since 2016.
“We’ll go back and check to make sure they didn’t change anything, make any modifications to the place, add something and all their fire extinguishers are up to date and their alarm system’s been tested,” Cifranic explained.
Cleveland 19 checked inspection reports for 16 local escape rooms. Some had minor violations like complaints from anonymous customers about too many people inside. Two businesses needed new fire extinguishers, which have since been replaced. Others had violations for parts of the building not affiliated with the escape room, like items blocking an exit door. There were no other major safety violations.
At the escape rooms we looked into in Northeast Ohio, doors never lock behind customers.
Some escape rooms, like Perplexity Games, even have additional emergency exits in the rooms.
“Once you’re in the room, you can always walk back into the hallway. You can always walk out the door you came in,” Molchan said. She added, “we always have a game master observing the game. There’s never anyone responsible for more than 12 guests.”
Fire inspectors recommend taking basic steps to stay safe before you start the game.
“When you enter the place, just be aware of where the exits are. Make a mental note, just like you go anywhere like a concert or a restaurant. That’s something everyone should do, especially in a confined or closed in space like that,” Cifranic said.
Before going into an escape room, you’ll likely have to fill out a waiver. The content depends on the escape room business, but generally the waiver asks participants to refrain from taking pictures or videos and states participants cannot be under the influence.
Fire inspectors also recommend calling the business ahead of time if you have questions about being restrained or locked in rooms.