New Kensington is on the way to becoming the latest municipality in the region to require new or newly-renovated commercial buildings to install a lock box to help first-responders gain access in emergencies.
City council laid the groundwork this week to enable it to pass an ordinance Feb. 4 that will require them, according to city Administrator Dennis Scarpiniti.
Assistant Fire Chief Ed Saliba Jr. said the reason for the lock box — known as a “Knox box” because it is made by the Knox Co. of Phoenix, Ariz. — is to provide firefighters and police faster access to the buildings and interior rooms housing utility controls in the event of an emergency.
The way it works is, the building or business owner labels individual keys to denote what they open, such as “front door” or “electrical controls,” and where those areas are located. Those keys are then deposited into the lock box, which Saliba locks with a master key.
When there is an alarm at the building, all he has to do is unlock the box, retrieve the keys and gain entry to the building and interior rooms.
That allows firefighters to search for the source of heat or smoke that triggered the alarm and prevent a fire from spreading.
“It will help the fire department out tremendously,” Saliba said.
He said it will allow the firefighters the ability to enter without having to break down doors or smash windows — something that can cause hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, of damage that may be beneath the owner’s insurance deductible.
“We don’t want to damage buildings any more than we have to,” Saliba said.
There also is the matter of response time for firefighters who wouldn’t have to wait for a building manager or maintenance director to show up and open the building when there is no smoke or fire showing.
Saving time also is important for firefighters from a personal standpoint, especially if it’s an early morning alarm.
“Some of these maintenance people might live 30 or 40 minutes away,” Saliba said. “Then, you have 25 or 30 volunteer firefighters, most of whom have to get up in the morning and go to work, standing around until that person arrives.”
A Knox box costs between $275 and $400, according to the company’s website.
The cost varies because there are different types, with some being built flush into the building’s exterior walls and others that are attached to the exterior wall, Saliba said.
The city has been registered with Knox for eight years and offered the service without an ordinance, but no business owners participated, Saliba said.
About four months ago, Westmoreland Community College New Kensington campus officials approached the department to add a Knox box and the city obliged, Saliba said.
After it was installed, the department pursued the matter with city officials and now the ordinance is set to be adopted.
The fire department has seven master keys that unlock the boxes, each of which is numbered, and they’re carried by the department’s officers, Saliba said.
Access to the keys is limited and using them will be strictly monitored, both Saliba and Scarpiniti said.
No business owners have commented to the city about the proposal yet, they said, and there’s a provision in the proposed ordinance that allows businesses that don’t to participate to apply for a waiver to be exempted, Scarpiniti said.
If the ordinance is adopted, New Kensington would join a growing number of municipalities who require the boxes on new commercial buildings. Collier, Greensburg, Monroeville, Murrysville, Mt. Lebanon and South Greensburg are among among the communities that either have similar ordinances on the books or participate in the Knox box program.
“It works great because the responders have quick access to the structures. It prevents damage,” Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department Public Information Officer Chris Tantlinger said. Greensburg has had an ordinance in place for about two years, he said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-487-7208, email@example.com or via Twitter @TribDavidson. Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .