More first responders enter homes via lockboxes

Lockboxes with keys inside have long been used by businesses and high-rises, and are now increasingly seen in individual homes


By John Wisely and Megha Satyanarayana
USA TODAY

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A home health aid worker in Franklin Township, N.J. could see her unconscious patient through a window of the home last month, but couldn't get inside to help.

When emergency crews arrived, they dialed a combination lockbox to access the door key and entered within seconds, Franklin Township Police Chief Craig Novick says.

"We were able to render aid without breaking down the door," he says.

Lockboxes with keys inside have long been used by businesses and high-rises to give emergency crews access. Now, they're increasingly seen in individual homes, says Jack Parow, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Suburban communities such as St. Charles County near St. Louis; Covington, Ohio, outside Dayton; and the Phoenix suburb of Avondale are among those with programs. People can check with their police or fire departments to see whether they offer the service, Parow says.

"It makes it a lot easier for us," Parow says. "It's more of a peace of mind, especially for people who call us a lot."

Novick's department buys the boxes with drug forfeiture funds and has installed about 75 since March.

The boxes typically come in either a combination or key model that can be mounted to the home or hung on the door. Combinations typically are kept in dispatch computers and released to crews en route. Depending on the mounting and the strength, prices can range from $20 to more than $200.

The Knox Co. in Phoenix has made key models for individual homes for about 20 years and sales in that sector are growing, spokesman Larry Pigg says.

"With the advent of seniors needing assistance and seasonal residents, you see more of it," he says.

Pigg says the company doesn't market to homeowners, as emergency crews are considered the user and regulations vary by community.

Emergency response officials like the idea, because without easy access, first responders must often smash a window or break in a door.

"I've destroyed quite a few doors helping people," Centerline, Mich., police Sgt. Kenneth Frizzell says.

Wisely and Satyanarayana also report for the Detroit Free Press

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