By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Balancing safety and security. There are new questions on the role security bars played in a deadly house fire in Northwest Baltimore.

Mike Hellgren investigates.

Smoke and flames ripped through the home of Donald Patterson, Sr. and his wife Jennye, both beloved in the community. That fire started in the early morning hours on the first floor. They were on the second floor, and they simply couldn’t make it out in time.

It can take less than one minute for flames to engulf an entire room in your home. Security bars on your windows can trap you inside, delaying your rescue.

WJZ has reported that bars covered the front door and second-story bedroom windows of the home on Mohawk Avenue, where Donald and Jennye Patterson died in a raging fire Wednesday.

“This was just a shock to all of us,” said the Patterson’s nephew H. Russell Frisby, Jr. “Both my aunt and uncle were wonderful people and they will be very, very missed.”

Chief Kevin Cartwright of the Baltimore City Fire Department believes the bars did not hamper their response here, but offered this advice: “There’s a quick release latch that can be retrofitted for most security bars on windows.”

That allows you to get out fast from the inside.

The National Fire Protection Association reports a dramatic increase in the number of fire deaths attributed to blocked exits.

Their numbers show, in the early 1980s, an average of less than one death a year. Now it’s shooting to 25. Among them were children in Philadelphia in 2005.

“The mother screaming, ‘My babies are inside, my babies are inside,'” a Philadelphia police officer explained.

Fire investigators don’t yet know the cause behind the Pattersons’ fire, but say they did everything they could to get them out.

“I think their choice would have been, if they had to go, they would go together, and that’s been some consolation to me,” Frisby said.

The fire department stresses it is important to have an alternate escape plan. Witnesses report they do remember the fire alarm going off.

The Pattersons were educators and pillars in their community. They both graduated from Morgan State University.

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