Why are window security bars dangerous?
Saturday, September 22, 2018
“Burglar bars” are effective at keeping an intruder from climbing in through a window, but they also prevent anyone from getting out in a fire. A bedroom window is the alternate route out of a home that’s on fire when the hallway and living area exits are engulfed in fire or lethal smoke.
Because having a “Plan B” way out in an emergency is so important, all building codes now include a provision for “egress” bedroom windows--in other words, windows specifically designed for exiting a bedroom when necessary. The window, when open, must not only be large enough for a person to get out, but also of sufficient size for a fireman with a backpack to get into the bedroom to save a life.
Bedroom windows in many older homes do not meet the egress window standard but are still large enough for someone to wiggle through in a fire after smashing out some glass. Unfortunately, security bars without an emergency release mechanism eliminate any possibility of window escape.
Many people have a greater fear of being robbed than trapped in a fire—an unfortunate misjudgment—and bars are often installed shortly after a home has been burglarized. They are also more common in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. But the consequence of being unable to escape a burning house is much worse than the personal loss from a burglary. About 25 persons are injured or die in house fires each year because their escape is blocked by locked burglar bars or gates, according to data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS). Because of a string of well-publicized deaths due to burglar bar entrapment in burning homes in the 1990s, legislation was enacted in many areas of the country to mandate that window security bars have a quick-release mechanism. They specify that the opening mechanism should be next to the window, easy to understand without any training, not require a tool or key to use, and must be able to be operated with relatively little force, so that it can be opened by children or the elderly.
We test quick-release mechanisms when inspecting homes with security bars, or note the absence of a release mechanism as a serious safety hazard. When no release mechanism is present, we recommend removal of the bars or retrofitting of opener system that meets current safety standards.
Also, see our blog post How many exit doors are required for a house?
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