A few years ago, I wrote about potential code modifications for escape rooms – the now-popular entertainment facilities where participants are “locked in a room” until they can solve the clues needed to escape (that blog post is here).  These rooms are not specifically addressed by the model codes, so any egress situations that do not meet the code requirements for free egress must be approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Often, non-code-compliant decisions about inhibiting egress are based on the belief that a fire or other emergency is unlikely to happen.  But last Friday, five 15-year-old girls were killed in a fire in an escape room in Poland, and one man was injured.  Media outlets are reporting that the fire began in a reception area and was started by a gas leak and/or shoddy wiring.

With many tragedies like this one, lessons tend to be learned after it’s too late for the victims.  The US model codes are in place to help keep building occupants safe, and these codes are created and modified in part because of fires and other events that have occurred.  When we see a code violation, it may be tempting to brush it off thinking, “The chances are slim that this condition will actually put someone’s life at risk.”  But imagine explaining that to the victims’ families (or the judge).

Some tips for escape rooms:

  • If the calculated occupant load of an individual room is less than 50 people, only one exit is typically required.  I have seen escape rooms where the entrance door is never locked, and participants solve clues to open a different door in the room which is not considered an egress door.  In most cases, this arrangement would be code-compliant as long as the means of egress is readily distinguishable.
  • Some escape room doors have electrified hardware that can be released by the attendant or a “panic button” in the escape room.  If the door is a required means of egress from the room, this set-up would have to be approved by the AHJ, and the hardware should be “fail safe.”  This type of hardware will allow egress when power is cut – whether that function is performed by a button or by the fire alarm system.
  • Electromagnetic locks are fairly common on escape room doors, with a release button beside the door.  Mag-locks are fail safe, so the lock can be released by the fire alarm or sprinkler system if the building has one.  The auxiliary release button should be the type that will unlock the door for a period of time – usually 30 seconds.  This 30-second release is one of the requirements for the auxiliary push button used with mag-locks that are released by a sensor – the sensor wouldn’t be feasible in most escape-room situations (the door would unlock whenever someone approached the door).  Because an electrically-locked door with just an auxiliary push button does not meet the model code requirements without the sensor, this application must be approved by the AHJ if the door is an egress door.  Update:  Here’s a news story about a US escape room that uses mag-locks.

When in doubt, contact the local AHJ to determine what is acceptable in the facility’s jurisdiction.


‘Escape room’ fire in Poland kills 5 teenage girls – New York Times

“Security was not ensured and that led to the tragedy,” Chief Suski said, adding that there had been no proper evacuation route and a “lot of negligence” at the location.  Mr. Gasiorowski said the fire probably broke out in the reception room and blocked a pathway to evacuate the girls.


#101Wednesdays – The Great Escape (…Or Not…) – NFPA Xchange

AHJs should be familiar with the Code’s door locking and latching requirements in; the ability of occupants to egress a building at any time without the use of keys, tools, or special knowledge or effort is a fundamental tenet of the Code. Occupants can be contained only for safety and security purposes in occupancies such as health care and detention and correctional – never for entertainment.


Five teens killed in fire at Poland ‘escape room’ birthday party – NBC News


Photo: Stew Milne for the Boston Globe

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