MARTINS FERRY - The fire department is asking city council to consider passing an ordinance requiring the use of security boxes in town using the Knox Box system.
"It can be used for any type of property but it's mainly used for commercial and residential properties," said Fire Chief Jack Regis. "It's a miniature safe mounted to the exterior of the building somewhere near an entrance door. Inside is a key to the structure that opens the door."
Regis said it allows fire departments to enter a structure to respond to fire alarms and other emergencies outside normal operating hours.
Regis added that the key is only made by the Knox company and it is assigned a code number for the fire department.
"It's constructed basically like a vault," he said, adding that the keys are chipped and any time a key is entered into the box it is registered inside the box. In the event of a suspicion of improper activity every access day and time is recorded.
"The keyhole on the box is actually tamper-proof. It is a miniature vault," Regis said, adding that the boxes themselves are 15-25 pounds. 'They're strong material. They range from couple hundred dollars to $10,000. It depends on how sophisticated they want it. We do not mandate what type of box the business purchases. We just ask them to purchase it."
Regis added that while the boxes will hopefully not be needed, the business owners will likely make their money back in the loss of property damage during a response.
"We know times are tough but we want to bring our fire department into modern times," he said. "I think its a win/win for the fire department and the stakeholders involved."
Regis said another security feature is an institutional and internal policy of record keeping stating that any time the keys are used, the emergency unit using the key radios into dispatch. Dispatch records the time the unit entering the building with the Knox Box. Responders will also limit the number while going out on a regular checkup.
"So there would be that security to fall back onto," Regis said.
He added that such a system would have several benefits.
"If we're called to business after hours or on weekends, we'd enter the structure, re-set the alarm, and take measures necessary without having to force entry or wait on the key holder," he said, noting occasions where they have had to wait 45 minutes to an hour at 4 a.m. for a key holder to arrive.
"That just ties up apparatus and manpower waiting for the person for what is usually typically nothing," Regis said, adding that they would still contact the key holder, who can decide if they want to come to the site themselves.
"It benefits the business owner or the property," Regis said, noting the excessive damage that can result from forced entry. "We would be able to enter under normal circumstances, put out the fire and remove the hazard and secure the building when all was clear.
"It would save the business owner from having to worry," he said. "We'd rather do this than have to force entry into a building unnecessarily."
He added that the police department could also hold a key on their station in the event of a burglar alarm.
Regis said the department is providing the city council with sample ordinances from other communities similar in makeup and population to Martins Ferry. The safety committee will also meet and discuss the issue. Knox representatives will be invited to explain the process to council, who will decide on an ordinance.
"We would move forward to there," Regis said.
"We would work with the Chamber of Commerce and local business communities and the high rise towers to implement this project and see it through to completion," he said, adding that boxes could be ordered through him and through Assistant Chief Michael Reese. "We would have all the signoffs and checks in place and policies in place before the first box is even ordered."
Currently schools, campuses and a few businesses have taken the initiative and installed such boxes with the help of the fire department. Regis added that the Cumberland Trail, Wheeling Fire Department, and other major cities in Ohio use such a system.
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