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Hurricane Shutter Tragedies

These are corrugated storm panel hurricane shutters. These slide under a track at the top and wingnut at the very bottom. Despite the Section R310.1 of the International Residential Code, “Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings” Requirement that they be removable from the inside of bedrooms, these were not removable and led to the deaths of the 2 homeowners in these fires.

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The “Hurricane Shutter Tragedies” chart below shows the extensive deaths, injuries and property destruction linked to fires involving bolted-on hurricane shutters and plywood. These hurricane shutter tragedies are happening approximately once per year. There have been 13 deaths, 12 of which are related to the lack of safety release mechanisms, and approximately $50 million worth of property destroyed since 1995.

Clearly, these shutter tragedies show the risks of injury associated with bolt-on shutter products and the need for Federal Government to establish national uniform life safety standards for this consumer product, as control and meaningful action over this life safety issue by state and local agencies is wholly inadequate. Without immediate action, more hurricane shutter tragedies will occur.


Note: We have been limited to internet searches of news stories that describe hurricane shutter tragedies, fire investigation reports and photographs taken of these tragedies. The life safety dangers of bolted-on hurricane shutters is believed to be more extensive than what is shown above. If you know of a Hurricane Shutter Tragedy not listed above, please EMAIL US.


The following news stories show the extensive home damages and deaths caused by bolt-on hurricane shutters and plywood.

SUNTREE — Brevard County Fire-Rescue crews were back at the site of a Wednesday house fire in Suntree this morning after reports of smoke coming from the burned-out garage.

Reported by: John McQuiston
Email: jmcquiston@mysuncoast.com
Last Update: 5/30/2011 6:33 pm


BRADENTON – As we get close to hurricane season, many Suncoast homes already have their hurricane shutters up. That could be good for your windows, but it could also risk your life.

Leigh Hollins drives around an upscale neighborhood off 53rd Avenue West. And soon spots the problem. “If you look down the side here,” says the Cedar Hammock Fire District Battalion Chief. “There’s some nice escape windows that are covered up now.”

Most of us worry about storms blowing into our homes, and hurricane shutters can do a great job keeping debris from coming in. But what if you have to get out?

Back in his office, Hollins reads headlines from the Hurricane Shutter Tragedies section of www.plywoodalternative.com. "Hurricane shutters keep two from escaping," says one. “Trapped family dies in fire North Miami Beach," reads the next. They come from cases where shutters meant to protect property cost people their lives, when their homes caught fire and they could not escape.“With almost all these products you cannot get out from the inside,” Hollins says.

Yet he points out several homes in a single block where people have put up shutters or Kevlar screens, and left them up. Some of the see-through acrylic ones might even seem designed to stay on all the time. “They let light in, people can see out of them, so they just just leave them on the building and they don’t give any consideration that they’re actually blocking that opening,” Hollins says.

If a storm is not threatening, the shutters become the hazard. Hollins first realized this during the busy storm season in 2004. He has written about the dangers in a firefighter trade publication. And has campaigned to get the message to a wider audience.

“If you’re trying to get out in a hurry,” he says, “that’s not going to happen if these products are in place,” noting that ones approved for use get tested by firing 2×4 wood beams into them at 100 mph. If they can stop that, they can stop you from cutting through them.

He doesn’t want to scare people from using hurricane shutters. But it’s worth the effort to wait until a storm threatens before putting them up – and taking them down as soon as the storm passes.

“Protect your property,” he says. “But be aware that this causes problems for your family and for the firefighters that may come to rescue you.”

Copyright 2012 Southern Broadcast Corp of Sarasota All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Hurricane Shutters Hindered Hollywood Fire Victim, Officials Say

By Macollvie Jean-François and Ken Kaye June 2, 2007
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

HOLLYWOOD — A 72-year-old woman killed in a house fire Friday probably could have escaped through the windows, but they were blocked by hurricane shutters, authorities said.

A relative said he put up the shutters at Jeannette Lazarick’s home in the 2200 block of Northwest 43rd Avenue in March. Officials say the tragedy shows why shutters are only supposed to be up for a short time. The shutters at Lazarick’s home held in the heat from a blaze that ignited on her stove. The heat blew off the roof of the house and contributed to her death, said Lt. Robert Hazen, Hollywood Fire-Rescue spokesman.

Lazarick tried to escape through the home’s back door near the kitchen, Hazen said, but the flames and smoke overwhelmed her. She died a few feet from the exit. "She was in the seat of the fire," Hazen said. "If a fire is between you and a door, you have to go through a window. But with the shutters up, you’re locked in. It’s like a cage."

Shutters were over at least eight windows, including six in the back of the house, Hazen said. He said Lazarick could have fairly easily exited via the windows if not for the shutters. "We can’t believe she couldn’t get out," said John Lazarick, 46, a nephew in Hillside, N.J. "The family is devastated."

John Lazarick said he installed the shutters in March because his aunt planned to sell the house and move back to New Jersey with relatives. A widow for 11 years who loved animals, she had worked as a bookkeeper at Animal Hospital in Hollywood. She stayed behind to find homes for her four cats and to sell her house. John Lazarick also said she had been ill and suffered from a heart condition.

"Why didn’t she just come home with me in March?" he said. The fire started about 12:30 a.m., and firefighters battled the blaze from outside, Hazen said. Firefighters said the shutters made it difficult to determine if the home was occupied. The intensity of the heat prevented firefighters from immediately searching the house.

Too often, people put up shutters early or leave them up, either to avoid the hassles of installation or to deter criminals, fire experts say. "What’s important for residents to understand is that those shutters are only supposed to be up for a very short period of time, only for the time a storm is approaching and about to hit," said Plantation Battalion Chief Joel Gordon.

On May 2, shutters hindered firefighters’ efforts to douse the flames of a home on the Seminole Indian Reservation near Hollywood that injured an 80-year-old woman and left the house uninhabitable. Shutters on a building were blamed for the death of a priest in a Fort Lauderdale fire in 2004. A woman lost her four children and husband that same year in a shuttered home that caught fire in Homestead.

Volunteer Broward, the nonprofit volunteer arm of Broward County government, developed a program after Hurricane Wilma to provide teams to put up shutters for seniors and disabled people when storms threaten, said Audra Vaz, the organization’s assistant director. The volunteers will also take the shutters down.

"We don’t put shutters up until we’re in that three- to five-day cone of probability," Vaz said. "We don’t want people in a dark or in unsafe situation longer than they need to be."

Even when shutters are up, officials said, residents still must have different means of exiting a home, for instance through a front and side door.

Macollvie Jean-François can be reached at mjfrancois@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4694.


Shutters Blamed in Fatal Blaze That Killed Priest in Fort Lauderdale
By Jaime Hernandez Staff Writer
September 15, 2004

A Catholic priest was killed in a house fire Tuesday night after efforts to rescue him were hampered by hurricane shutters covering the windows. The Rev. Jorge Sardinas, 53, apparently tried to fight the blaze with a garden hose before he was overcome by heat and flames, said Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Alfred Lewers Jr.

Neighbors called to report the fire in the 3200 block of Southwest 20th Court at 10:30 p.m., and when firefighters arrived they found heavy smoke and flames coming from the house. They had trouble getting into the house because hurricane shutters still covered most of the windows. "It really hindered our efforts to get into the house," said Battalion Chief Phillip Pennington. "If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s take your shutters down after a storm in case of a fire."

Sardinas was an art professor at St. Thomas University in Miami and a priest at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Miami Lakes, Lewers said. He was found unconscious on the floor near a bedroom, and paramedics administered CPR before taking him to Broward General Medical Center. His dog was found dead inside the house.

Pennington said Sardinas took down only a few shutters after recent storms to allow light into the house. Lewers said Fort Lauderdale fire arson investigators and police homicide detectives were investigating the blaze, but they had no reason to suspect foul play.

Mike Jachles of WTVJ-Ch. 6 contributed to this report. Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun Sentinel


"Safety Doesn’t Sell" – Lee Iacocca

There was strong competition for Ford in the American small-car market from Volkswagen and several Japanese companies in the 1960’s. To fight the competition Ford rushed its newest car the Pinto into production in much less time than is usually required to develop a car. The regular time to produce an automobile is 43 months Ford took 25. Before production however, Ford engineers discovered a major flaw in the cars design. In nearly all rear-end crash test collisions the Pinto’s fuel system would rupture extremely easily. Because assembly-line machinery was already tooled when engineers found this defect, top Ford officials decided to manufacture the car anyway, exploding gas tank and all, even though Ford owned the patent on a much safer gas tank. Safety was not a major concern to Ford at the time of the development of the Pinto. Lee Iacocca, who was in charge of the development of the Pinto, had specifications for the design of the car that were uncompromisable. These specifications were that "the Pinto was not to weigh an ounce over 2,000 pounds and not cost a cent over $2,000." Any modifications, even if they did provide extra safety for the customer that brought the car closer to the Iacocca’s limits was rejected.

The rush of the Pinto from conception to production was a recipe for disaster. Many studies have been concluded on Pinto accident reports which have revealed conclusively that if a Pinto being followed at over 30 miles per hour was hit by that following vehicle, the rear end of the car would buckle like an accordion, right up to the back seat. The tube leading to the gas-tank cap would be ripped away from the tank itself, and gas would immediately begin sloshing onto the road around the car. The buckled gas tank would be jammed up against the differential housing (the large bulge in the middle of the rear axle), which contains four sharp, protruding bolts likely to gash holes in the tank and spill still more gas. Now all that is needed is a spark from a cigarette, ignition, or scraping metal, and both cars would be engulfed in flames. If a Pinto was struck from behind at higher speed say, at 40 mph chances are very good that its doors would jam shut and its trapped passengers inside would burn to death.

The best method for improving the safety of the Pinto was to line the gas tank with a rubber bladder. Ford alleged that it would cost $11 per car to add any sort of gas tank, fire prevention device. This fact is mentioned earlier in the cost analysis and like the other Ford cost facts, is also false. The fires that occurred in Pintos could have been largely prevented for considerably less than $11 a car. The cheapest method involves placing a heavy rubber bladder inside the gas tank to keep the fuel from spilling if the tank ruptures. Goodyear had developed the bladder and had demonstrated it to the automotive industry. Crash-tests were conducted and there are reports showing that the Goodyear bladder worked very well. On December 2, 1970, Ford Motor Company ran a rear end crash test on a car with the rubber bladder in the gas tank. The tank ruptured, but no fuel leaked. On January 15, 1971, Ford again tested the bladder and again it worked. The total purchase and installation cost of the bladder would have been $5.08 per car. That $5.08 per car could have saved the lives of several hundred innocent people.

The financial analysis that Ford conducted on the Pinto concluded that it was not cost-efficient to add an $11 per car cost in order to correct a flaw. Benefits derived from spending this amount of money were estimated to be $49.5 million. This estimate assumed that each death, which could be avoided, would be worth $200,000, that each major burn injury that could be avoided would be worth $67,000 and that an average repair cost of $700 per car involved in a rear end accident would be avoided. It further assumed that there would be 2,100 burned vehicles, 180 serious burn injuries, and 180 burn deaths in making this calculation. When the unit cost was spread out over the number of cars and light trucks which would be affected by the design change, at a cost of $11 per vehicle, the cost was calculated to be $137 million, much greater then the $49.5 million benefit. These figures, which describe the fatalities and injuries, are false. All independent experts estimate that for each person who dies by an auto fire, many more are left with charred hands, faces and limbs. This means that Ford’s 1:1 death to injury ratio is inaccurate and the costs for Ford’s settlements would have been much closer to the cost of implementing a solution to the problem. However, Ford’s "cost-benefit analysis," which places a dollar value on human life, said it wasn’t profitable to make any changes to the car. As Lee Iacocca was fond of saying, "Safety doesn’t sell."

The Pinto disasters that were taking place did not go unnoticed by the government. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began investigating the case shortly after the Pinto started rolling off the assembly line. The NHTSA contracted with several independent research groups to study auto fires from around the country. The studies took months, which was just what Ford wanted. The results were worse than anyone could have imagined. Robert Nathan and Associates, a Washington research firm, found that 400,000 cars were burning up every year, burning more than 3,000 people to death. Furthermore, auto fires were increasing five times as fast as building fires. Another study showed that 35 per cent of all fire deaths in the U.S. occurred in automobiles. Forty per cent of all fire department calls in the 1960s were to vehicle fires—a public cost of $350 million a year, a figure that, incidentally, never shows up in cost-benefit analyses. Also a report was prepared for NHTSA by consultant Eugene Trisko entitled "A National Survey of Motor Vehicle Fires." His report indicates that the Ford Motor Company makes 24 per cent of the cars on the American road, yet these cars account for 42 per cent of the collision-ruptured fuel tanks. Another staggering fact that was discovered was that a large and growing number of corpses taken from burned cars involved in rear-end crashes contained no cuts, bruises or broken bones. They clearly would have survived the accident unharmed if the cars had not caught fire.

In 1972 the NHTSA had been researching and analyzing auto fire causes for four years. During that time, nearly 9,000 people burned to death in flaming wrecks. Tens of thousands more were badly burned and scarred for life. And the four-year delay meant that well over 10 million new unsafe vehicles went on the road, vehicles that will be crashing, leaking fuel and incinerating people well into the 1980s. It wasn’t until May of 1978 that the Department of Transportation (a division of the NHTSA) announced that the Pinto fuel system had a "safety related defect" and demanded a recall. Ford agreed, and on June 9, 1978 the company recalled 1.5 million Pintos.

Unlike many engineering disasters, there was no single event that caused all of the deaths and injuries related to Pinto’s. Ford had many opportunities to limit the damage done by the faulty design of the Pinto. Engineers bowed to pressure from superiors to keep quiet about the unsafe cars. As deaths and injuries continued to occur, Ford decided that it was not profitable to recall Pinto’s.

Taken From: fordpinto.com