Most security bars on himes in Miami-Dade County, Fla., violate the state building code and could potentially trap residents in a fire like one that killed four children on Sunday, the Miami Herald reports. Charles Danger, the county Building Department director, estimated that up to 90 percent of the bars do not have hinges and latches that allow them to be opened from the inside during an emergency. The state building code prohibits fixed bars in sleeping areas unless there are two other escape routes: either two doors, or a door and a window, neither requiring a key.
Residents who are concerned about crime resist enforcement efforts. “We get out and people say we are infringing on their freedom to protect themselves,” Danger said. “Neighborhoods where we issued a lot of violations, people accuse us of being the Gestapo.”
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which sets standards for fire codes around the country, about 15 people die every year because of being trapped by the bars. A 2002 report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that illegal burglar bars were a national problem and that the perception is false that burglaries are bigger threats than fires.
One Miami company charges $350 per window to retrofit security bars with the quick-release latches–usually about three windows per house. At just over $1000, that’s about what it would cost to install a basic alarm, said Rick Ostopowicz, spokesman for the National Fire and Burglar Alarm Association. Insurance companies prefer alarms. Most offer a discount on homeowners’ yearly premiums — $200 to $300 — if they have an alarm.