County Fire Marshall: Take down your hurricane shutters – even though another hurricane may come

[Photo: Kaila Jones]

More than two weeks have passed since Hurricane Dorian threatened Vero Beach, and many local homes have windows – some of them, anyway – still covered by storm shutters.

The reason?

It’s only September, and the possibility remains that another hurricane could find its way to Florida’s east coast in the coming weeks, prompting many homeowners to believe it’s too soon to invest the time, effort and/or expense necessary to remove all of their shutters.

County Fire Marshal David Johnson said that’s a potentially a fatal mistake.

While Johnson understands why some residents prefer to leave some windows shuttered – if there is another hurricane, there’s less work to do – he said living in a home with shutters on any “openable windows” poses a danger, especially if there’s a fire in the home.

“Just as those shutters protect you by preventing flying debris from crashing through your window, they also can prevent you from getting out – or obstruct Fire Rescue personnel from getting in – in the event of a fire,” Johnson said.

“You never know where in a house fire will start or what exits will be blocked, so you want to have as many options available as possible,” he added. “Leaving up shutters on any windows is unsafe and can be deadly.

“That’s why we recommend the removal of all shutters be a priority once a storm has passed.”

Johnson said the county does not have an ordinance requiring homeowners to remove shutters in the wake of a storm. However, many homeowners’ associations have rules that do.

Most of those associations also prohibit seasonal residents from installing shutters before they depart for the summer and leaving them up until they return.

“It’s not like leaving your Christmas lights up all year,” Johnson said. “If something happens inside the home, we can’t get in. There’s also the issue of delayed notification because the windows are covered and nobody sees the fire inside until a lot of damage has been done.

“Whether someone is inside the house or not, the shutters are going to cause a delay for us, because we’re going to have to use force to get in.”

Johnson said there were “several such incidents” after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, when Fire Rescue personnel responded to house fires and needed to forcibly remove shutters from windows to fight the blazes.

“It took time to get the shutters off, so we could get into the house,” he said. “Thankfully, in each case, there was no one inside.”

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