Fire inspectors will be conducting a safety blitz at escape rooms across the city in the coming days following a Christmas Day blaze at one of the establishments on Yonge Street.
Escape rooms do not have to be licensed and are not required to undergo annual inspections under the Ontario Fire Code but Deputy Chief Jim Jessop tells CP24 that officials want to act proactively to find out more about the businesses, particularly in the wake of a deadly blaze at an escape room in Poland as well as another fire that occurred at the Roundabout escape room near Yonge and Gould streets on Dec. 25. That fire did not result in any injuries but caused thousands of dollars in damages, according to Jessop.
“The big issue we have, especially after the tragedy in Poland, is that they are not required to be licenced and more importantly they are not required to undergo any annual inspections under the fire code so we are being proactive,” Jessop said. “We have directed staff to search out as many as they can, to conduct inspections and to work with our engineering and municipal licensing and standards divisions to get a really good snapshot of how many we have, where they are and most importantly are they safe for the public right now?”
Escape rooms have become increasingly common in Toronto in recent years but they exist in a bit of a regulatory grey zone and do not have to be specifically licensed.
The idea behind the rooms is that patrons are trapped and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape while racing against time but Jessop said that the fire code still applies, meaning that there must always be properly marked emergency exits.
“That is one of the key things we will be looking at. The fire code is very clear. Exit doors cannot be locked and they cannot require specialized knowledge to open in the event of a fire,” he said.
Christmas Day fire presented challenging conditions
Jessop said that inspectors had visited the Roundabout escape room previous to the Dec. 25 fire and had ordered that they remove electronic locks on a number of doors, a request that the operators of the facility did comply with.
Nonetheless, firefighters who responded to the Christmas call described challenging conditions resulting from the unique layout of the escape room.
“We didn’t see any smoke when we pulled up to it but there was 30 to 40 people out front so we knew that there was something go on. We went upstairs and it was smoke filled and when we walked through the second door we found an airplanes fuselage which presents a different kind of a problem because it looks like the inside of an airplane,” Captain Jack Cooper told CP24. “One firefighter is taller than I am and he had a lot of trouble just walking in and he was leading the way.”
While no precise count on the number of escape rooms in the city exists, Cooper said that there are at least five in the downtown neighbourhood where his fire station is located and up to 150 across the GTA.
“We are actively looking for them now,” he said.
Jessop said that while the blitz is mostly planned as a fact finding exercise, inspectors will immediately resolve any “imminent issues” that they may discover.