Last week, a family of seven died in Cebu. Neighbors were there to help, but could not save the family because they were unable to remove the burglar bars on the window.

Here in the Philippines, non violent theft is common. So all the stores have security guards, and all the larger houses have their own protection to prevent theft.

So houses often are surrounded by walls, doors are locked, and all windows have burglar bars.

And these burglar bars cannot be easily removed, since often they are sunk into the concrete block walls when the house is built.

So ironically, when slum housing burns, people flee and there are few deaths, but when a hotel or more affluent house catches fire, the family might be unable to flee.

Now, in some areas of the USA, the burglar bar threat is becoming recognized by local fire departments, who urge that they be modified so that those inside can more easily escape.
For example, I once owned a house that had been used as a vacation home. It also had burglar bars, but they could be opened by removing a lock. But since even that was a hazard, we took the lock off and kept them closed with a simple thin wire that could be removed or broken in case of fire. Of course, they wouldn’t keep out burglars either, but since with the proper equipment we got the lock off in thirty seconds, the old lock wouldn’t have stopped a determined burglar either.

This advice is probably not going to be helpful in third world countries where thieves commonly break through windows by cutting and removing the bars or by removing and crawling throught the Airconditioner hole. Indeed, bars must be placed on second and third story windows to keep out enterprising burglars.

This is why the Philippine Star  is urging the government to supply local fire fighters with  equipment that can easily remove the bars. Since the Chinese Philippino community is active with volunteer firefighters, they may be able to privately fund the equipment, at least in some urban areas.

For those of us in rural areas, we can only hope there will be no fire, or that we can get out the front door.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket 

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