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Security Bars and Home Fire Safety

Security Bars and Home Fire Safety

(ARA) - Sometimes a device that prevents one hazard creates another. That can be the case with security bars, the metal bars that people put on their windows and doors for security. They do keep intruders out -- but they also can trap residents inside in an emergency.

In October 1995, five children died in Oakland, Calif., when a fire broke out in their home, but they couldn’t get out because the door was locked and steel bars were on the windows. The same fate befell four children in Ybor City, Fla., in 1997; unable to escape, they perished in an early-morning fire.

Many other incidents like these, often involving children and multiple deaths, have raised concerns about this issue. About 15 people die each year because security bars trap them inside during a fire.

What’s the solution? Quick-release devices for security bars enable you to push the bars open from the inside. These can involve pulling a lever, pushing a button, stepping on a pedal or kicking in a lever on the floor.

Most fires involving security bars occur in low-income neighborhoods where people are already at higher risk for both crime and fires. To deal with the problem, the Center for High-Risk Outreach at the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), based in Quincy, Mass., has organized a Home Security Fire Safety Task Force to help communities reduce deaths and injuries from these fires through engineering, legislation and public education.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for example, the members of the Task Force and the Fire and Rescue Department did a sidewalk survey to identify homes with security bars. Each received a notice informing residents of the danger, and listing installers who could retrofit the existing bars or put in newer, safer ones. Low-income residents were offered community block grant money to help with the cost. In Oakland, the fire department, State Farm Insurance and a local housing group teamed up to conduct a public education campaign and to offer a pool of funds to help residents retrofit or replace security bars.

In addition, California has passed laws requiring that security bars used on escape windows be releasable and that all new security bars be labeled with safety information.

Public programs and laws can have a huge effect, but when a fire breaks out, individuals’ actions make the biggest difference. Here are some tips from NFPA’s Center for High-Risk Outreach:

* Install working smoke alarms on every level.

* Know two ways out of every room.

* Use quick release devices on barred windows and doors.

* Make sure everyone in the household knows how to operate the release devices.

* Make an escape plan and practice fire drills in the home.

Free educational materials, “Safe and Secure,” can be downloaded from NFPA’s Web site,, from the public education section.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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