Metal Bars Hinder Fire Rescue

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January 5, 2006
And as family and friends are shocked by the tragic ending, fire inspectors say metal burglar bars made it hard for firefighters to do their jobs. The device designed to keep burglars out did the same thing when it came to firefighters.

"This particular kind here mounted into the wall with no way to escape,” said Lt. Neal brown, Fire Inspector.

Fire Inspector Lt. Neal Brown says these burglar bars worked against firefighters as they tried to rescue the family trapped inside of this South Kensington Drive home.

"It certainly hindered firefighters and bystanders that were trying to help, limited access,” Neal said.

Fire inspectors say there is something to learn from this fire, never install security bars that are bolted, always chose a design that has a release mechanism.

But there was one window that had the release mechanism. It was the window in 13-year-old Shilwanda Mcalpin's bedroom. Shilwanda died from smoke inhalation.

"This is the ironic part I was talking about. Her widow is the only window in the house that had a mechanism where you could unlock it and it was unlocked, why she didn't make it out we do not know other than apparently she panicked,” Neal said.

Other family members inside were trapped not only by barred windows, but dead bolted doors.

"All these doors were dead bolted with no keys inside no means to escape," Neal said.

Neighbors finally kicked in a door to get Shilwanda's mother.
But it's what her 20-year-old sister did that may have saved her and her 13-month-old baby's life.

“She came to this window put her child on this air condition and she pushed it out and her and the child came out with the air condition outside,” Neal said.

And while burglar bars do serve a purpose the wrong type can work against you.

Now here's more advice from Fire Inspector Lieutenant Neal Brown. Make sure all rooms in your home have working smoke detectors. And also have a fire exit plan that you rehearse often in your home. The Georgia Fire Commissioner visits Augusta each year. He provides fire detectors to departments for people who may not be able to afford one.