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How Secure are Security Bars?

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

How Secure are Security Bars?

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We are all familiar with what security bars are? Right? Well, they are the bars that are put over windows and doors to keep out intruders. The principle is good, but the situation can be bad. We had a few areas where the security were in high usage. I’m sure you have all seen them, but are you familiar with them? For example, do you know how they are installed? Are they attached to the studs? Are they attached only to the stucco? Are they attached to a block wall by drilling through the block with wing nuts on the inside. No, not the people, the actual bars. How they are mounted makes all the difference in escape for the occupants or access for the fire department.

If they are attached to the studs, chances are there is no release and the only way through is a sledge handle, axe, or power cutter AMKUS, Jaws of Life, etc. Usually, you only access these as a last resort. If they are only in the stucco, they usually break out with one or two sledge hits. Now, through concrete blocks is a whole different story. They are usually bolted solid on the top and have wing nuts on the bottom two bolts. The problem with this, is that in the smoke, you have a hard time finding them and sometimes up to two minutes to unscrew the wing nut. Most of the time, either the smoke or the heat gets you long before you get the wing nuts off. At least in all of my career that was my experience.

You really need to familiarize yourselves with all of the areas and buildings that have security bars and doors on them. Both commercial and residential. This information can save lives. Yours and theirs. If at all possible, see how they are installed and if there is a quick release.

One of my last fires, prior to retirement, was a particularly bad one. I was at Station 53, talking to the crew, I happened to be Acting Battalion Chief that day, when a car stopped and told us there was a fire down the street. We went outside to see a house with smoke coming from everywhere, or so it seemed. I jumped into the Suburban and headed to the fire, even as dispatch was sounding the alarm. On my arrival I found a single story house with the front living area and front entrance fully involved. To my right was a bedroom window with security bars. The window was open with flames and smoke coming out, which set the cypress trees on fire that were next to the window. There was no way to safely enter the house and the first in unit was the snorkel with no water or hoses. The snorkel Captain wanted to run through the flames and try to save the man in the bedroom. One of the hardest decisions you will ever make is to make your crews wait and do everything safely and properly so they can be the solution to the fire situation, not add to it, and add to the casualties. Once the first engine was on the scene, we had water and knock down in minutes, and was able to get to the back bedroom, the occupant was already dead. When did the occupant die, well that could be anyone’s guess. One thing I do know, there were no firefighters hurt, and the property damage was less than it could have been if we had tried an unsupported rescue.

Upon investigation of the fire, it seems that while dad was asleep in the bedroom, the two young children had found matches and had started the livingroom and the hallway on fire, trapping the father in the back bedroom. We also discovered that entrance into the back bedroom area, would have been impossible without knocking down the fire first. Another valuable lesson learned where common sense and training paid off with big dividends.

Again, I stress to be totally familiar with your response area.

Please be safe,

Captain Jep

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