Wrought iron bars over house windows may keep burglars out. But add fire, and they can turn a safe house into a deathtrap.
Firefighters lost time Thursday morning as they sawed through thick metal after neighbors said a family was trapped in a blazing Chandler home, fire officials said.
This time no one was inside. But the extra five minutes it took firefighters to enter the home could have had disastrous consequences.
For example, in Philadelphia on Sunday, five children — ages 6 months to 6 years — died in a fire after rescuers were hampered by security bars. The fire took nine minutes to extinguish.
"People don’t realize they are fortressing themselves inside their homes," said Gary Ells, Tempe fire battalion chief.
Older homes and houses where people weld their own bars and bolt them to their walls are some of the most dangerous situations, said Rural/Metro spokeswoman Alison Cooper.
If bars are necessary, the safest types have push-button panic release hardware or a lever that allows the occupant to easily escape using either a foot pedal or button, said Randy Christenson, owner of Mesa Screen and Glass Specialty.
Another safe alternative is bars that break away from the inside, Cooper said. Even easy-to-open bars can be dangerous if a person passes out from smoke inhalation and can’t get to the window.
"If you become disoriented, then you’re not going to be able to escape," said Frank Mendoza, Tempe crime prevention officer.
That’s why bars with locks requiring keys aren’t suggested either.
"If you can’t see through the smoke, you’re not going to be able to find the key and unlock the lock," Cooper said.
Mendoza said bars should never be placed on the windows of rooms with children or senior citizens, and he doesn’t recommend placing them on bedrooms either.
"Bars can be good for security, but they will definitely trap you inside," said Chandler battalion fire chief Dan Couch.
Iron bar safety tips
• Use bars with push-button panic release hardware or a lever on the inside.
• Use bars that break away from the inside.
• Bars that open with keys are not recommended.
• Never put bars over the windows of rooms with children, senior citizens or anyone unable to get to the window.
• It is not recommended to put bars over windows where occupants sleep.
• Have a professional company install the bars and never try to do it yourself.