Rapid Access: Gainesville Fire Department featured image

Rapid Access: Gainesville Fire Department

Posted By Cynthia Jones On Jun 24, 2014

Around 10 years ago, Gainesville, Georgia adopted the International Fire Code for their community. This code grants the department the authority to require businesses to have a key box for emergency access. After adopting the code, Gainesville decided to implement the key box provision in their jurisdiction. After exploring their different options, they settled on the Knox System as the key box for their community.
Once the code was adopted, Gainesville began implementing the requirement for a key box. They started by incorporating the requirement into their current procedures for both new construction and existing buildings.
When a building is being built or remodeled, the project must go through the plan review process. The requirement for a key box was added to the review process and is treated no differently than any other requirement. Existing buildings were brought up to code during their annual inspection. Businesses were made aware of the requirement and the time frame to bring their building up to code. The key box requirement is just one of many checklist items that are reviewed and/or inspected during the annual inspection.
All businesses with a fire alarm or sprinkler system located in Gainesville’s jurisdiction are required to have a key box. Smaller stores in strip malls are handled on a case by case basis and in many instances can share one box with the other businesses in the strip mall.

Gainesville has experienced many benefits from implementing the Knox System. They’ve been able to “eliminate waiting for a business owner” and been able to access minor problems much earlier. In the past, “if we couldn’t see the smoke after doing the preliminary walk around, we couldn’t tell they had a problem,” said Fire Marshal Jerome Yarbrough. Now with a Knox-Box they’re able to gain access without having to wait and resolve these smaller incidents before they grow.

    Knox® KeySecure® unit installed in apparatus

Having a Knox-Box also helps the business owner save money. “If we have to pop a door open, the building owner is responsible for fixing or replacing the door,” shared Yarbrough.
When a business needs a Knox-Box, they go through the Gainesville Fire Prevention Office. “We require all Knox purchases to be reviewed and signed off by the prevention office so we can track the orders.” While the prevention office approves all orders, they do not have access to the actual boxes. “Only suppression can access the boxes,” Yarbrough explained.
When a property owner receives their box from Knox, they contact the fire station that would normally respond to their location and not the fire prevention office. The station helps them determine where to install the box. Once the box is installed, the property owner arranges a time for the local fire crew to come out and lock up the box. This allows those who would normally respond to a call at that location to see where the box is located, verify the keys work and add the box location to the building’s preplan. During a building’s annual inspection, the engine company checks the Knox-Box. (Knox recommends that all Knox-Box units be inspected annually so that grit and debris can be prevented from making the box difficult to open.)
Gated communities have grown throughout the US in recent years, and Gainesville is no exception. While gates provide a sense of security by limiting access, during an emergency, responders need immediate access. Waiting for someone to open the gate wastes valuable time. While going through a locked gate results in property damage and can cause injury to responders. Most of the gates in Gainesville are equipped with a signal control activated device to access the gates, a Knox Key Switch is required as a manual backup in case the signal doesn’t work or power is out. “It helps with response times,” shared Yarbrough.
Gainesville recently took the step to install KeySecure units in all the apparatus to control their master key. These units collect an audit trail of when and who released the key, providing accountability for the master key. Additionally, they can tell if the key is missing just by looking at the KeySecure unit. “We haven’t lost any keys. But to minimize the liability of a lost key, we decided to install KeySecure,” shared Yarbrough.
Located 55 miles NE of Atlanta, the Gainesville Fire Department was established in 1876. A paid department since the early 1900s, the department covers 30 square miles with 4 stations and a staff of 103. They serve a daytime population of more than 150,000 due to the large number of businesses within their community – approximately 2,200 businesses. The population drops to 36,000 during the evening.