MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 14, 2013

Fire chief sees benefit of lock box ordinance

It will let firefighters enter buildings quickly without damaging them, he says

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Passage of an ordinance requiring installation of rapid-entry lock boxes will solve two problems, said Muskogee Fire Chief Derek Tatum.

It will eliminate the need of firefighters to keep track of scores of keys and give them immediate access to buildings without having to make forced entry.

City councilors approved the ordinance, which will require owners of new commercial and multifamily residential structures to install the lock boxes near building entrances or gates.

“We would be able to make rapid entry and assess a situation without causing any damage and leave with the building secure,” Tatum said. “I think the costs will be outweighed by the potential savings ... and from a public safety standpoint.”

Tatum initially proposed an ordinance that would have required the owners of all commercial and multifamily residential structures to install the Knox Box rapid entry system. The cost of the system, which is used by more than 11,000 fire departments, ranges from $250 to $650, plus the cost of installation and a $35 application fee.

City councilors balked at an earlier version that — with some exceptions — would have required all commercial buildings with alarm systems, automatic fire sprinkler systems or standpipe systems to install Knox Boxes.

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard stood firm in opposition to the ordinance, which he said should be voluntary. If the system is so beneficial, he said, business owners would install the systems without a legal mandate.

“I’m not going to vote for this because I think it needs to be elective,” Howard said. “A lot businesses don’t want it, but for new businesses that come in we’re going to put a new fee on them — I don’t think that is right.”

The program would be voluntary for the owners of existing businesses or multifamily residential structures that fall within the guidelines of the ordinance. Tatum said the department will encourage lock boxes for those business owners who have provided the department with keys, all of which will be returned by the end of the year.

Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson said that from a public safety standpoint, the Knox Box rapid entry system has many benefits that far outweigh the initial costs of the box and installation. Johnson, the maintenance and facilities director for Muskogee Public Schools, said that since the issue came up in June, he has seen many Knox Boxes in other cities.

The Knox Box system is designed to afford firefighters quick entry into buildings without the damage associated with a forced entry. For larger industrial applications, the boxes contain information about any hazardous materials kept on site.

Tatum estimates the total cost to the city would be $8,324, which would pay for the secure key retention boxes.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.