Bottom Line Investigation: "Safety vs Survival" how security bars are a death trap

They're called security bars. People put them on windows and doors to keep criminals out, but the fire department says they also trap people in during a fire. Milwaukee's Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Lipski showed CBS 58's Bottom Line Team just how dangerous bars can be.

Milwaukee Fire Department responds to about 850 structure fires every year. The National Fire Protection Association says after five minutes you're unlikely to live. So the last thing you need are security bars coming between you and survival.

Essie Long knows the loss of fire first hand.

Long says, \"It was real bad, it damaged everything.\"

Last year her home burned down so her family moved and put up security bars, \"To prevent ourselves from being robbed and safety.\"

But she doesn't realize the security bars are a safety risk. To show how dangerous bars are Milwaukee's Fire Department and CBS 58 simulate a fire. For safety, crews enter a fire free home, and it's lit at a different date.

At a minute and a half neighbors see smoke coming out of the home and call 9-1-1. After three minutes of being trapped behind bars suffocating smoke fills the room.

Lipski says, \"You're hot you're dizzy maybe quickly going unconscious.\"

With an average response time of 4 minutes and 54 seconds Milwaukee fire crews arrive but can't reach you. The bars cost crews an extra forty seconds per window \"It delays us, it delays a rescue. It keeps you in smoke conditions for longer.\"

At 5 minutes and 34 seconds crews are just getting in and pulling out your unconscious body.

Lipski says, \"We've lost people in the City of Milwaukee, directly as a result of not being able to get in, to get them out quickly.\"

Still think you can bust off the bars? To show you difficult it is, we challenged a Milwaukee Firefighter to get out with things only found in an average home. First he spots a folding chair. At 35 seconds the glass is off, but the bars remain. Now a minute and a half in, your house is filled with smoke.

After 3 grueling minutes our firefighter is free but would have to jump through flames to get out. An average homeowner wouldn't have his protective gear. It's the reason Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Lipski wants people to use 'panic bars.' They are locked to burglars on the outside, but a latch lets people out from the inside.

Lipski says, \"It requires a simple motion and actually unlocks half of the building.\"

The city code requires security bars to be removable, but doesn't define what removable means. We brought the issue to Alderman Tony Zielinski.

Zielinski says, \"We're meeting with staff, we're in the process of drafting amendments to existing amendments so those loopholes are closed.\"

It could make all the difference for residents like Essie Long who plans to take her bars off.

So nothing comes between her and a way out.

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