Security (Burglar) Bars and House Fires

Security (Burglar) Bars and House Fires

Burglar Bars and House Fires
Credit: David Woo / DMN Staff Photographer

People have become more proactive when it comes to protecting themselves and their homes from the possibility of burglary. For some, this has included the installation of burglar bars (also called security bars). While this is certainly a deterrent, how safe are these devices in the case of an emergency, especially a house fire?

Safety Risks Associated With Security Bars

Anyone who has undergone a break-in or lives in a neighborhood that is prone to burglaries may feel that security bars are a good way to protect against home invasions. Unfortunately, some burglar bars are inherently unsafe by design, and could prevent you from exiting your home in the case of a fire.

Take, for instance, the tragic story out of Dallas last month. An elderly woman in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas was tragically killed when she could not unlock the burglar bars attached to her front porch.

A neighbor reported that she heard small explosions, and when she ran across the street, she found the 81 year old woman trapped on the porch, stuck behind her burglar bars. Neighbors tried to help the woman escape, but the security gate was locked and she could not locate the key.

Following this tragedy, leaders in the city are working on plans to promote burglar bar safety. When a meeting was scheduled in order to assess what could be done to prevent future tragedies, Dallas Police, Fire, and code enforcement officials agreed to attend in order to provide information about modern burglar bar escape features.

What’s the Solution?

While some older burglar bars may still require a key to open from both sides, this may actually be a violation of fire code. Many cities actually outlaw security bars which require a key to open from the inside, and state that burglar bars must be equipped with a keyless exit option. Additionally, fire codes stipulate that security bars must have at least one interior release mechanism per room. Many older burglar bars have no such option.

Unfortunately, enforcing these rules is difficult, especially if the property is in good condition and code inspectors have no reason to inspect the home.

Police say that the safest option is to remove them completely.

According to the director of high-risk outreach programs for the National Fire Protection Association, there are approximately twenty fire-related deaths annually as a result of the use of burglar bars. She believes people are more worried about the risks of crime than fires—a concern that may be difficult for many residents to overcome.

For more information, see the U.S. Fire Administration’s special report on burglar bars.

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