While we may not think of trespassing or theft in terms of fire safety in our barns, the fact remains that intruders can, and do, enter our property and barns mainly for purposes of theft. If that intruder is smoking a cigarette while in your barn, and he or she tosses that cigarette aside, you will be losing much more than a few saddles or portable barn equipment.
Is it easy for intruders to invade your property? Yes. It takes no more than climbing or cutting a fence, or walking past your No Trespassing sign.
So, what can we do to limit trespassing and related criminal activities? While we may briefly consider hiring sharp-shooters, even an armed security guard cannot be at all places on our property at all times.
When it comes to fires that are intentionally set, barns seem to be one of the most common targets. Perhaps it is because most are unattended— or appear to be unattended—during the hours of darkness when most acts of cowardice take place. An individual who wouldn’t chance setting a fire in the presence of others often has no qualms about setting a fire when the only living beings in the target barn are helpless to do anything about their situation.
Over the years I’ve been focused on fire safety in barns I’ve received all too many letters from people who have lost horses, farm animals, and companion animals to fire, even when they did everything possible to prevent fires. This is the tragedy of arson, and I’m including here portions of one letter I received from a gentleman who lost a beloved horse to arson. As he wished, I am not identifying him, his horse, or the location of the barn fire, but his words are heart-wrenching and can serve as a reminder of how—in spite of all we do to protect those we care about—we must always be aware of the perils of our world.
“I am writing in response to your recent letter to the [Breed] Journal regarding the fire which took the life of our horse along with many other horses, the barn, and the dreams of many people. Reading your letter brought tears to my eyes, remembering the morning of February 14 and what I saw when I got to the barn after most of the fire was out. I will never forget that morning, ever.
I read your article on how to help prevent stable and barn fires and what to do when the fire is noticed in time and what to do for the future. All of your points are very valid and I agree with you in how the possibilities of a barn fire can be virtually eliminated through basic common sense and good planning.
The stable we boarded at was less than nine years old, not inherited. It was planned from the ground up as a safe, easy to maintain stable. Almost every boarder there helped keep the place neat and clean. No one smoked in the area in or around the building. The owner is a retired state police officer and has been on the County Fire Board for many years. He is a life-long horseman, experienced farrier and trained and showed Saddlebreds. No one could have run a cleaner, neater, safer operation. His whole family was involved with the horses and the barn.
There was no loose hay laying around. All wiring was in conduit. There were no fans or other electrical appliances allowed around the stalls. Everyone, including the boarders, other stable owners, the fire marshal, the insurance people, neighbors, etc. agree that the barn was one of the safest and best in the area.
It was February and cold and damp. My wife and I were the next-to-last people to leave. We had, and still have, a reputation for not leaving the barn without checking everything twice. We’d been there for over nine years and watched the barn being finished, then expanded. Our horse was there. We had responsibility to our horse and the other horses to keep them safe. We checked every stall every time before we left for the night. Water faucets off. Lights off. Gates closed and latched. Doors closed in bad weather.
After the initial fire investigation, it was determined that the fire was arson. Not spontaneous combustion. Not electrical. Not lightning. A human being, one of us. Someone walking around today. The investigation is still open, waiting for that one break to lead to the person who started that fire.
All the precautions in the world could not have prevented that fire. It was far too “Sad”. It was not “Preventable”.
There’s a new barn now, with new horses. The boarders that are there now are the same ones who were there a year ago. Some of us even helped to build the new barn. This barn has a security system with door sensors and infra-red beams. There’s a heat detection alarm system. Every boarder has a different security code. Whenever no one is there, the system is armed. The riding arena is separate from the stalls. There’s more concrete, more water hydrants, and more hose. There’s less flammable material.
None of this will replace our horse or any of the other horses. Our saddles and tack and other belongings are gone. We’ve got another horse. He’s seven years old and won the halter class at a local county fair his first time out. We’re feeling a little better but we still get teary at times.
As we walk around at the mall, a fair, flea market or grocery store we wonder, “Is it someone here that started that fire?” The who and why will always bother us.”
Most often fires are set for personal gratification, anger over another person’s actions, or to prove one’s “worth.” In one case an arsonist turned out to be a firefighter familiar with farming. During the summer months, at two-to-three week intervals at around 2:00 in the morning, barns were set ablaze. The firefighter was at each fire, helping evacuate livestock and generally being considered a hero. But, as the fires continued, the investigation began zeroing in on the firefighter. The firefighter quit the department and shortly after left town. The fires stopped, but there was nothing concrete that could be used to arrest the firefighter for arson. Where did his travels take him, and how many more barns were set on fire?
That’s one frightening aspect of arson, which is why arson is particularly troubling. It’s an easy-to-commit crime with often little chance of being arrested. In some cases arson is considered a “business expense,” including the potential of capture and incarceration as part of doing business. We may think that arson for profit would be a peril for large stud farms and racing stables, where the horses are valuable commodities and insurance payouts are substantial. There’s no doubt about security for these facilities being essential.
Who’s on Your Property?
One means of fire prevention is knowing who is on our property and why they are there. The 1987 Exhibition Park Raceway fire in St. John, New Brunswick involved Barn No. 1 and claimed the lives of thirty race horses. The fire was ruled accidental; teenagers sneaking smokes in the barn ignited hay. But, when the fire started they did the absolutely worst thing possible–out of fear of being caught they fled the scene without reporting the fire. By the time firefighters were on the scene, the barn was fully involved in flames.
Did those teenagers have any business being in that barn? We don’t know, but the tragedy does remind us that monitoring the access and activities of the people entering our property is essential. Our concern here is fire safety, but the same practices and equipment we use to protect unlawful entry for fire safety purposes will also be of importance in protecting our horses from theft. I don’t want to get too far off our focus but for added theft protection I strongly urge you to visit the Stolen Horse International, Inc. website and sign up for the Net Posse newsletter.
There’s one other fact to consider when it comes to people in our barns. They can also be victims of a fire either intentionally set or accidentally started. Two 14-year-old boys died in a barn fire that burned so rapidly they had no chance to escape. Their remains were found the next morning in the ashes near the source of the fire. It’s conjectured that the boys were smoking, but the fire was so intense there was no way to know for sure.
Our first means of protection from unwanted visitors are security gates. Of course we don’t want our property, especially our home, to be a fortified castle, but if your barn has its own access drive from the road, you may want to consider installing a security gate. These gates can be of almost any type, and although your first inclination might be to shake your head at the idea of having to get in and out of your vehicle every time you want to enter or leave by way of the barn driveway, there are battery-powered systems that can open or close your gate from your vehicle, just as you’d use an automatic garage door opener. If you have boarders or other people who need access to the barn via a security gate, digital keypads are available. These systems can range in price from $500 on up, depending on your requirements, but what a great investment in keeping your animals safe from potential troublemakers!
If you don’t have gates, wireless monitors are available to let you know when someone has entered your driveway. When a vehicle or person crosses an infared sensor’s path, a receiver in your home and/or barn chimes and flashes a red alert light. Of course, this only works when you’re available to hear or see the alert, but such perimeter systems can also be tied in to your home security system. Some systems have a 1000’ range while others can transmit an alerting signal up to several miles distant. You would have to consult with a security system specialist/installer to determine the best protection for your property, but the simpler wireless monitor is available for around $200 or more—again, an investment worth considering.
Cameras (or even non-functional camera housings) are good deterrants. Reasonably priced cameras are available for use inside or outside your barn, or even other locations on your property. Many can be monitored on your television set or even be set up to be monitored on your computer. Prices can range from less than $400 on up depending on your needs. If the camera(s) are coupled with an alerting system, such as ones used on driveways to let you know someone’s arrived, you may be able to stop the criminal activity before any damage is done. You’ll have time to call 9-1-1 and let the police handle the situation.
Don’t overlook the value of exterior lights mounted in strategic positions on your barn, other outbuildings, paddocks, next to pasture gates, and driveways. Lighting fixtures are inexpensive to install and operated and are one of the best ways to deter unlawful entry. For your pastures, think about installing solar-powered lighting at intervals in areas of your property that would be prone to trespassing.
We are blessed, too, with wonderful “organic” security devices, namely dogs, geese, and even peacocks. Sometimes our canine helpers can be a little over-zealous, but the fact is that dogs (even when they’re tied or confined in a pen) can be just the bit of intimidation required to make strangers take pause. At the very least, your dog(s) will give you the opportunity to take whatever action the stranger’s presence might require, whether it’s a friendly greeting or calling the police.