Oklahoma City Fire Department warns about burglar bars after deadly house fire that claimed life of grandfather


A typo in the original version has been corrected.

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma City Fire Department is issuing a word of warning about the dangers of burglar bars and house fires after a grandfather was killed in a house fire in northeast OKC.

Around 2:40 p.m. Monday afternoon, a fire broke out in a house near Northeast 23rd and Lottie. Neighbors said they could see smoke and fire billowing from the home.

Neighbors and friends said they jumped into action to break the locks on the burglar bars so the 67-year-old could escape the flames. Family members told KFOR the man’s name was Lynn Whitaker. He was a father of three girls and had several grandchildren.

“People were stopping, trying to get him out. Just couldn’t,” said his other neighbor and good friend of 25 years, Edwin Moreland. “I was using this axe to try to break the windows on this side and try to hit the lock on the bar. It just wouldn’t work.”

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Lynn Whitaker with his family.

Tuesday, Oklahoma City Firefighters showed News 4 what it takes to break the locks. They said they use special tools and force in a matter of seconds, which is something civilians and Whitaker’s friends just couldn’t do.

“This is our weak point that we will attack so we can come in this direction to open it,” said Sgt. Chris George as he pointed at a pair of simulation burglar bars at the fire department training grounds. “They’re still dangerous, but we have the breathing apparatus so that we can work through the smoke.”

“Those same bars could be the difference between life or death,” said Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson. “The last thing you want to do when you’re trying to get out quickly, when seconds truly count, you don’t want to be fumbling for a key.”

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Firefighters in front of a set of burglary bars.

Tuesday, Moreland said he’s making changes to the burglar bars on his own windows and doors.

“Matter of fact, I’m going to go buy new locks and put them on all my burglar bars this week so I’ll know where the key is,” said Moreland. “This right here has taught me a valuable lesson, ‘Okay, I need to know where the keys are.’”

Others are changing when they lock the bars.

“We always keep the door key at the front door,” said Harris. “During the day, I’m going to leave it open and then at night, when we’re getting ready to go to sleep around 10 or 11, lock it then. Because I know I don’t want nobody coming in the house when I’m trying to sleep.”

Fire Department officials said the victim did not have working smoke alarms in his home.

Moreland said he’s now going door-to-door to ensure his elderly neighbors all have working smoke alarms.

“He will not lose his life in vain,” he said. “That’s one of my bucket list activities that I want to do, make sure all my neighbors have working smoke detectors.”

The Oklahoma City Fire Department installs smoke alarms for free if you call (405) 316-BEEP (2337).

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