Aiming to cut down on property damage and boost response times, Chattanooga may require certain newly constructed buildings to have an exterior lock box to help the fire department gain quick access during an emergency.
The Chattanooga City Council approved an ordinance with those requirements on first reading Tuesday. It needs one more vote of approval from the panel before going into effect.
"This would keep us from having to force entry into those doors, which does take time," Seth Miller, executive deputy fire chief, said in an interview Tuesday. "It slows us down, and it damages property. Obviously, we don't want to do that. We don't like to do that, but sometimes you need to, to effectively rescue someone or to make sure that the property is safe."
Miller said the rules would specifically apply to new construction, including businesses and apartment complexes.
"We don't want to put that on existing homeowners or business owners, but it does give us the opportunity to go back and capture what we would consider challenge properties," Miller said. "Properties with recurring issues with false alarms or any of those things."
According to the proposed ordinance, the city would require exterior lockboxes on newly constructed commercial or industrial buildings, nursing care facilities and multi-family dwellings that restrict access via locked doors and have a common corridor for living units. The ordinance does not affect one- or two-family homes.
The Knox Co., which manufactures products for first responders, is donating almost $50,000 worth of materials and equipment to the city that would facilitate the program. That includes mounting brackets, electronic keys, software and docking stations.
The Fire Department would have a secure system on its trucks that would enable firefighters to unlock key boxes installed near the entrances of buildings.
Miller said the program would come at minimal cost to taxpayers and be a major benefit to building and business owners in Chattanooga. Miller didn't know the precise cost of the key boxes, although he estimated it's fairly nominal. It's something many developers and contractors factor into the cost of construction, he said.
Department spokesperson Lindsey Rogers said first responders across the nation are already using the Knox Co. lockbox program.
"The Chattanooga Fire Department has tried to get the KnoxBox program off the ground through multiple administrations, and it's something the command staff has wanted for a number of years," Rogers said. "The current administration and City Council have paved the way for this to happen. It makes it much more efficient for the (Fire Department) to gain access to buildings when time is of the essence."