Farmington Hills Fire Department participates in pilot program

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published November 21, 2022

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Farmington Hills Fire Department was recently one of six cities in the country chosen to participate in a pilot program that provides residents with a free Knox HomeBox.

The intent of a Knox HomeBox is to allow firefighters and paramedics immediate entry into buildings and property without forced entry damage or delay.

The device was developed for use with nonambulatory, chronically ill, special needs and homebound community members, according to a release from the city of Farmington Hills.

Farmington Hills Fire Department Fire Marshal Jason Baloga recently said that the department was given 12 to give out to residents.

Baloga provided examples of residents who could qualify to receive a free box.

“If someone, let’s say, has a knee replacement and may need the Fire Department to respond to them, or if they have mobility issues, they’d be a candidate for this program,” he said. “They would simply call us and we would screen (them) with a series of questions to determine their eligibility to receive the box as a loaner. And then we would come out, place the box on their door, and they would provide the key. We simply lock their key inside this box so that if the Fire Department would need to respond to help them … during a medical emergency, we don’t necessarily need to break their door.”

Although the boxes are technically on loan, Baloga said, “There’s no, necessarily, time frame, that we have with the loaner program.”

Residents who don’t get a loaner box can purchase one through Knox, which is located in Arizona.

Baloga estimated that the cost of a box is around $200.

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If someone chooses to purchase a box, the next step in the process is to call the Farmington Hills Fire Department at (248) 871-2820.

“The city of Farmington Hills has one key for all the Knox Boxes in the city, which would include that home box,” Baloga said. “So essentially, it’s a very secure product; only the Fire Department has the key to it, and they would simply provide a key inside that box, which would allow us to enter their home without damage. … In order for them to place their key in it they have to call us out to unlock it to open that box, and that’s where that special Fire Department key comes into play. So we unlock the box, they place their key in it, and then they close the box.”

Baloga provided further details about the security process that is in place.

“All of our keys are kept in a secure manner in the Fire Department, and we audit our keys,” he said. “So, essentially, nobody would be able to get access to those keys. …  They’re secure in our buildings, as well as secured in our trucks. So there’s different layers of security that we have on those keys to ensure that they’re not used in an unauthorized manner.”

Farmington Hills Fire Chief John Unruh is of the opinion that the Knox HomeBox has the potential to be a lifesaver.

“Our No. 1 concern is getting inside the house to provide aid to someone in need,” Unruh stated via the release. “This program saves us precious seconds by allowing us to gain entry very quickly. It has the distinct potential to positively influence the call’s outcome and to save lives.”

There is also another important step in the process after the Farmington Hills Fire Department is notified about a resident having a box.

“We also add a note to our dispatch center so that, while we’re responding, our dispatch center will let us know that they do have a Knox HomeBox, and we’d bring our special key. It’s called a Knox key, and that’s only keyed for the city of Farmington Hills,” Baloga said. “These boxes’ locks only match our keys. So you can’t take this box to another community to use it — only the city of Farmington Hills has the proper key for that lock.”

Other communities have Knox HomeBoxes that have keys specific to their city, according to Baloga.

Stickers can be placed on a screen or storm door to alert fire departments if a home has a Knox HomeBox.

“Our firefighters are trained to look for this box on the home and attempt to utilize that first, prior to causing any damage to the door,” Baloga said.

Although Baloga is a proponent of the boxes, there is something that he does not want to occur as a result of residents having them.

“It’s not for us to go over there and routinely open up their door because (they) locked themselves out or something like that,” he said.

According to the release, it is because of its “excellent standing in the Fire Prevention community” that the Farmington Hills Fire Department was one of only a small number of communities in the nation selected to take part in the Knox HomeBox pilot program.