Security bars create obstacle in fatal fire, neighbors weigh ris - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Security bars create obstacle in fatal fire, neighbors weigh risk

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Along with intense heat and heavy smoke, security bars prevented a mother, witnesses, even police officers from reaching two small children inside a burning home Monday.

One of the children didn't make it out alive. The Chattanooga Fire Department tells us the other is in "very critical condition" at a burn center in Georgia, with his mother by his side.

Along their street, many of the homes look the same, with metal bars blocking the windows and doors. Neighbors say it's a way to stop intruders, but after Monday's tragic scene, worry it may also stop them from escaping in case of fire.

The Chattanooga Fire Department follows International Fire Code, which does not address security bars on single family homes, only those on multi-unit or commercial buildings.

The city's Residential Building Code does, but only on new constructions. That means the Rawlings Street home that went up in flames wasn't breaking any rules by having bars covering the windows and doors.

"You can hear the babies just crying, saying 'help' and stuff like that," witness Rodney Harris said.

Mom Shondell Jackson, a dozen neighbors and police officers tried save the two boys, both around two and three, who were trapped inside as flames took over their home, but security bars over the windows and doors blocked them.

"Firefighters had to make their way around some security bars to get in and get the two infants out," Chattanooga Fire Department Spokesperson Bruce Garner said.

One child was dead. The other alive, but badly burned. Tuesday, neighbors placed stuffed animals in front of the charred home. The sight also ignited worries about their own homes. Many in that area have security bars up.

"I worry about not being able to get out of my house at night, like if a fire or something happens," Willow St. resident Willie Shackelford said.

Shackelford says his home was broken into three times before installing the bars. Thieves stole pistols, TV's and other electronics.

"I got them on all the windows and doors," he said.

He said his neighborhood of 30 years just isn't safe anymore.

"I've seen numerous shootings, you know, people getting stabbed, beat up," Shackelford said.

"The security bars and so forth started in the 60's, 70's and 80's," Ace Lock & Key Co-owner Bill Doss said.

Doss says they haven't installed security bars since the 80's and nobody's requested it either.

"Now it's come to light that it's more of a fire hazard," Doss said.

Doss said he's not surprised rescuers had a hard time getting in Monday, because when the bars are installed, they're screwed into the house's frame.

"If this house catches on fire, there ain't but two ways in and out and both of them got doors on them that you got keys and locks," Shackelford said.

Despite that worry, Shackleford thinks taking the bars down would be a bigger risk.

"A lot more break-ins than what happened over there yesterday. A lot more," Shackelford said.

Several other neighbors Channel 3 talked to say they've considered removing their security bars, but say it costs too much. Estimates we found had a starting cost around $200.
Firefighters will be in their neighborhood Wednesday installing free smoke alarms for anybody who needs them.

There have been several national studies conducted on the potential dangers of security bars. It includes instances in which people have become trapped inside burning structures and died. Fire safety organizations, as well as some insurance companies, encourage property owners to install release systems for their security bars.

Chattanooga codes require certain structures to have at least one exit door that is easily opened from the inside.

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