Swiss teambuilding event ends up injuring dozens – media

Employees of a marketing and advertising company in Switzerland had been offered a ‘firewalking’ activity

A firewalking activity at a teambuilding event on Tuesday in the Swiss canton of Zurich has gone horribly wrong, resulting in 25 people being injured, including 13 seriously, local media have reported. An internal corporate event turned into what the local police have called a “major operation” for the medical services.

“Firewalking kindles the inner fire and mobilizes unimagined strength,” an advert for firewalking as part of mental and personality training promised, according to the Swiss Aargauer Zeitung newspaper. “Where a clear motive meets discipline, success cannot be far away,” another such statement read.

These slogans were apparently what prompted Goldbach AG – a conglomerate specializing in marketing and advertising, to book such an activity for its in-house teambuilding event. However, a supposedly spirit-raising event did not go as planned.

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On Tuesday evening local rescue services were alerted that “several people had suffered burns after walking over hot embers,” the canton police said in a statement. Large police forces as well as rescue vehicles, including ten ambulances and two emergency medical teams were deployed to the scene. The medics had to treat 25 people in need of assistance, including “13 people [that] had to be hospitalized with serious injuries,” the police reported.

A probe has been opened into the incident. The company itself, however, appeared to have downplayed the issue. Goldbach CEO Michi Frank, who was present at the event, said on Wednesday morning that “a fire walk could be tried out as a voluntary team activity” during what was called the company’s “Sales Day.” “After appropriate preparation, the participants were allowed to walk barefoot over glowing pieces of charcoal,” the statement said, adding that several employees had “suffered burns” and “had to be treated on site… or taken to hospital.”

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Iris Blaetter, the head of communications at Goldbach, has told journalists that “the fire walk was voluntary.” “The message on site was: Nobody is forced, everything is voluntary,” she added.

Swiss newspaper 20 Minutes, which is owned by the TX Group, which also owns GoldBach AG, initially published a story titled: “After walking over glowing embers – 25 people injured, 13 of them seriously” but promptly changed the headline to “The firewalking was voluntary – we didn’t force anyone.” The article itself appears to be no longer accessible on the paper’s website.

The media then published another story, titled “Completely incomprehensible how 25 people could hurt themselves,” in which it featured advice by a firewalking coach and speculated on whether the preparation for the activity should have lasted longer.

It is still unclear what consequences the event organizers or the company providing the firewalking activity might face now. The case has reportedly been taken over by the Swiss public prosecutor’s office, according to newspaper Klein Report.

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