Gardendale firefighter Jason Murrell demonstrates how firefighters gain access to a master Knox box key, located in one of the fire engines. The master key would give firefighters access to all businesses and residences with the Knox boxes in case of emergency.

By Adam Smith

The North Jefferson News

The Gardendale Fire Department is now offering local business owners a little extra peace of mind.

The department recently began a program that would allow business owners to install a 10-pound steel lock box on the front of their property. The boxes, manufactured by the Knox company, would contain a key to the business, giving firefighters instant access to the building should a fire occur.

Gardendale Fire Marshall Rick Smith said businesses used to provide keys to the department, but the city’s business growth means more keys for firefighters to have to sift through. Smith said in the event of a fire, firefighters need to be able to get into the building as soon as possible.

Smith said if firefighters see a fire in a building, a door or window will have to be broken to gain access. He said the cost of the Knox box, which is about $200, is a lot less expensive than a new door for a business. “We don’t want to have to break a glass door or window when we don’t have to,” he said. “We can make sure there’s no fire and lock the door back.”

Firefighters will be able to gain access to every box by way of one master key that will be kept in a secure lock box in a fire engine.

“You can’t get out the master key without a pin code,” Smith said. “We punch in the code, get our key out and open the lock box to gain entry into the business.”

Smith said the fire department’s handling of the master key will be just as secure. The box which holds the master key keeps a log of every time the key is removed from the box and also keeps up with who took the key out. The dispatch center will also keep a log of every time the key is used.

The boxes themselves are also guaranteed to be secure, Smith said. He said even if someone were able to remove the box from the front of a building, they would not be able to get into the box without the master key.

The fire department will ask all new businesses to install the boxes. Smith said it would be a good idea for older businesses to do the same.

“It’s a good program and it’s easier for the owners,” he said. “If we have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for the key holder to show up, that’s 20 or 30 minutes that it’s going to burn.”

Structures that are more than 20,000 square feet will also be asked to purchase two boxes — one for the front and one for the rear of the building. The same goes for any business that has an internal fire alarm or sprinkler system.

Gardendale Civic Center Director John Brigham said boxes have been installed at the civic center and at the Gardendale Senior Center. He said he would recommend it to other businesses in the community.

“It’s more to help the fire department out than help us out,” Brigham said. “It will give them quicker access and they won’t have to hunt for keys.”

Smith said the department began working on the Knox Box plan about two months ago. He said the cities of Hoover, Bessemer and Vestavia have similar programs in place.

The Knox company, which manufactures the boxes, works directly with fire departments around the country. Knox also offers boxes for residents to put on their houses for a cost of $150.

Smith said the residential boxes would be ideal for anyone who wears a medic alert button. “Once we get there, if the door’s locked, we’ve got to bust a window to get inside and help someone get off the floor,” he said.

The residential boxes would hang over the front door.

Smith said businesses and residents who would like to install the boxes can contact the fire department for assistance.

For more information on the Knox boxes, visit

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