Trics of the Trade: Window Gates, Bars and Barred Windows

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.Slideshow Images:Trics of...

Upon arrival at a working fire in a dwelling with window bars, it should be transmitted on the radio with a brief description of the type of building so all incoming units are aware of the presence of these devices. The engine company must initiate an aggressive interior attack to control the fire and protect the interior stairs and means of egress for the occupants. A second line should be stretched to back up the first line and if not needed there will deploy to the floor above the fire. This is a precarious position and must be made with good judgment and determination. Ladder companies will have their hands full with their regular assignments and will now need to deploy an additional team to start removing the window bars. It would benefit the incident commander to call additional ladder companies immediately upon recognition of this hazard. If tower ladders are available, use them. They will make a safe platform for working to remove this hazard on the upper floors.

It is essential that we strategically remove the devices to assist in emergency egress or evacuation of our members. If fire is blowing out of a window that has bars on it, it is not necessary to remove those bars. There is no one alive in that room and our efforts will be better placed by removing the bars in the room next to that. We should remove at least one set of bars on each floor to start and continue to remove the window bars on the fire floor and floor above according to the location of the fire and our operating personnel and potential life hazards. The location of the windows that have had the bars removed should be communicated to all units.

If firefighters become trapped behind window bars and their means of egress is cut off, one of the ways to buy them time is to stretch a handline to their location and pass it through the bars to them. They will be able to use this for protection while we are working to create an opening for them. If trapped occupants are discovered, you should transmit their exact location so both interior and exterior operations can be concentrated in that direction.

Removal of Devices

As mentioned before, window bars are attached in a couple of ways. They are: fastened on the exterior face with bolts or screws (see photos 2 through 4); and fastened on the frame of the window with bolts, screws or recessed in to the brick, mortar or concrete (see photos 5 through 7)


An alternative to window bars are window gates. These gates can be the type that swing inward, outward, or are scissor gates. The scissor gate in photo 8 is attached to the outside of the frame. The swinging gate in photo 9 is attached to the inside of the frame. Either way, these gates present a problem when they are locked, and they usually are, and the occupants or firefighters are trying to get out. In photo 10, the gate slides to one side. This one happens to cover two windows, if it covered one window only, it would cut down the size of the opening for egress.

To remove window bars a re-bar cutter may be used but it is a slow process and you may not have the time to spare. Using a saw with an aluminum oxide blade will make fairly quick work of these bars also, but as you ascend you will need a work platform. This is where the tower ladder comes in handy. It is important to properly size up the window bars so you can make the minimum amount of cuts giving you the maximum results. You can also use portable ladders but assure that you have adequate manpower to make this a safe operation. Also, when removing window bars from the second story, make sure the work area below is kept clear so we do not incur any injuries.

Homemade Tool Entry Tools

One tool that I have seen used by FDNY Ladder 126 is homemade for window bar forcible entry. In photos 11 through 15, you can see that it is a rough sawn homemade gadget, but it works terrific. I was working in Queens one day tour and noticed at a job that these firefighters were making quick work of the window bars. When I asked them to show me the tool they were using I was amazed that the whole job did not have this.

It uses leverage and the fulcrum principal to pry these bars right off of their attachment. Even when using this tool on a window bar that is attached in brick or mortar, using the weight of the tool to smash the contact area and chip it up, then prying on the bars, it works extremely well. In photo 11 you can see the "adz" end of the tool being applied to the bottom of the window bars. A few shots on the tool with an axe will seat it properly and the downward pressure should overcome the lag bolts. The two tools compliment each other because they can be used interchangeably when the other fails to do the job.

On one tool (photo 14) you can see how the "U" channel grabs the bar so you can apply the needed upward pressure to remove them. The length of these tools is about six feet and they are made out of one-inch re-bar. In photos 13 and 15 you can see the second tool is set up like a large Halligan without the hook. The "adz" end can be used to bend and pry out a stationary window gate that is attached in to the brick and mortar while the fork end can be used to pry and apply leverage.