The installation of security devices throughout the country has been on the increase for many years, and no matter where you live, it should be a concern for any firefighter that is going to be engaged during an interior attack.
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, we are trapped in a room and the fire is cutting off our egress. We are stuck behind window bars!! This is a call for help no one wants to hear on the fireground, but if it should happen, are you capable of handling it? Let's go through the basics of window bars, window gates and barred storm doors.
The installation of security devices throughout the country has been on the increase for many years, and no matter where you live, it should be a concern for any firefighter that is going to be engaged during an interior attack. Security devices can be found in any type of occupancy whether it is a single family occupancy or a multiple dwelling and can consist of window bars, window gates or security bar storm doors. The location of window bars can be on the inside or outside of the windows and it is not uncommon to find them on all four sides of a building and on all floors too. In most cases, not all, you will find window bars on private dwellings or converted dwellings and window gates on multiple dwellings that have fire escapes.
Laws & Regulations for Bars and Gates
Any area that has experienced fire related deaths due to the installation of one of these security devices will more often than not promulgate a law stating where these devices can be installed as well as where they can not be installed. For example, in New York City the Multiple Dwelling Law states, "Iron bars, grilles, gates or other obstructing devices on any window giving access to fire escapes or to a required secondary means of egress shall be unlawful unless such devices are of the type approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals and are installed and maintained as prescribed by the Board". In addition, the Department of Consumer Affairs states, "If a window gate, grille, bars or similar device has not been approved by the "Board" for use on fire escape windows, the seller must place a label or tag on it stating that:
- It is illegal to use the device on a fire escape window;
- Use of the device on a fire escape window is a serious safety hazard;
- Use of the device on a fire escape window may subject the user to a fine.
Security bar storm doors found on entrance ways will usually have double key lock assemblies and tempered glass or Lexan. Construction of the bars on both the doors and windows will vary from a light metal to heavy wrought iron and steel. The manner in which they are attached to the structure will vary and is going to have a direct impact on how easily we can get through these devices. They can be attached by being bolted or screwed into the wood frame of the window or door, or they can be set in to mortar, brick, or concrete.
The potential danger of these devices in a fire situation is clearly evident. A civilian that may have installed window bars that would permit escape and then places a keyed pad lock on the moving part of the device is not going to get that security device open to allow egress for the occupants (see photo 1). Notice that a large section of the window bars will open on the hinges to the right in the photo. Having civilians trapped behind window bars is a stressful situation, you want some added stress, how about we go back to the first sentence; "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, we are trapped in a room and the fire is cutting off our egress and we are stuck behind window bars!"
Encountering Devices at a Fire