Six children perished in a fire earlier this year in Chicago, in part because the windows in their apartment were covered with bars to keep burglars out.
"We don't like burglar bars," said Chicago Deputy Fire Commissioner James Newbold. "If somebody could come up with a good idea that would satisfy people's desire for seecurity, and at the same time give us easy access to areas in their home, it would be a great thing."
The question is how to keep burglars out and at the same time to make sure people can get out in a fire.
A Denver-based airline pilot has designed a new window that may begin to provide some answers to this potentially tragic problem.
James Pratt invented the window because he was concerned about the safety of his own children, some of whom sleep in the basement of his suburban home.
Called the Guardian Angel Escape System, the window is a double-pane sealed window of tempered glass in an aluminum frame, with three steel bars across each pane to keep out intruders.
What makes the Guardian Angel unique is a steel mechanism beneath and attached to the window. In the event of a fire, the unobtrusive attachment is pulled out and down, forming two stairs.
The action of opening the stairs also springs the window open, instantly creating an exit where a burglar proof window had been.
"A 5-year-old can activate the window, and there's room for an adult to carry a child out," Pratt said.
In addition, Pratt said, the window will operate even when coated with ice and it provides improved energy efficiency over the standard basement window.
The window costs $550, plus installation, according to Vern Ecklund, whose firm Viking Industries, is the distributor in the Chicago area.
"There are other escape windows, but they are considered to be too easy to get into by most builders," Ecklund said.
The window, which so far is only available for basement or garden-apartment apertures, has a manual override. It is suited for both new construction and remodeling. Pratt added that he hopes to adapt the window for above-ground windows as well.
"it's a nice-looking unit, even a paneled room," Ecklund said. "We're findng that some people are using the window as a second door to their apartment."
"Another fire escape window is made by Conland Corp. It opens like a door and has a desk underneath and lights above. A smoke alarm automatically turns the lights on and the desk folds down and becomes a step, with a rope ladder inside.