ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – After two good Samaritans saved two children from a burning home in Tampa over the weekend, fire and rescue officials urged people to made sure their home security is up to code.
Bars over windows can keep burglars from entering the home, but they can just as easily trap occupants inside if they aren’t installed correctly.
“They’re meant for security reasons but in a fire situation they also become an entrapment,” said St. Petersburg Fire Lt. Steven Lawrence.
Florida building code allows bars and grills to cover windows as long as they are releasable or removable from the inside without using a key, tool or force. Code also requires that any emergency escape opening is no more than 44 inches above the floor and has a minimum clear opening of 5.7 square feet.
State officials spearheaded a public awareness campaign in 2014 to encourage compliance to the Florida Building code, specifically regarding security bars and safety release devices in reaction to a family that was nearly killed in a house fire in 2003.
According to a 2002 special report on burglary bars by the U.S. Fire Administration:
Based on data obtained from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), on average about 25 civilians are injured or die each year in fires where escape is compromised by unauthorized bars or gates. The actual numbers may be larger than that, due to the fact that the presence of burglar bars is not always collected in a way that is recorded by NFIRS (e.g., written in text but not coded).
“If you’re going to look at getting burglar bars or if you have them already installed, you should have a mechanical release of some sort,” Lawrence said. “The code requires you to be able to release in one room from at least one window. It can be a push release, a level release or a foot-activated release so you can use that window as an emergency exit.”