New lockbox program to help seniors in times of emergency

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 12, 2018

ROCHESTER — The Rochester Fire Department is rolling out a new program involving the installation of a device that allows first responders to gain quick access to a property in times of emergency.

Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said the program — which is targeted for seniors but is open to all residents — allows police, fire and emergency medical service personnel to enter a home without damaging doors, locks or windows via a Knox HomeBox single-key vault.

“A lot of the seniors now have pendants that they can push or call for 911, but in some cases, they can’t get to the door,” Cieslik said.

In that case, gaining entry to a home can be tough, Cieslik explained.

“The alternative of having to break into the house isn’t always great because of the damage that we cause. … The first thing we try to do is check the windows to make sure they’re not locked. If there is one open, we could go through the window, but quite often we either have to break that glass in the door or break the lock off and try to open the door with a tool, so we are causing damage to the home, and we really don’t like doing that,” he said.

“I can’t tell you, in my 20-year career, how many times I’ve had to break down a door or bust through a window to be able to help a senior citizen up who fell or had potentially been laying there after falling for days,” said John Shepp, a Rochester firefighter, EMT and fire inspector.

Many businesses in the community currently utilize the city’s lockbox program, according to Cieslik, who just expanded the program to include residential properties.

“During the late evening or early morning hours, when we get a fire alarm at a business, it allows us to gain quick access to a business, where before we might have to break a lock or a window to get into the building to check it out. The Knox box gives us the opportunity to get the key to open the door. The keys are kept in a lock system where you have to enter a special code to get to the keys, so we can keep track and guarantee the security of the person’s business,” Cieslik said.

The residential lockbox program works the same way, allowing emergency personnel to quickly enter a house with a homeowner’s key, which is kept in a secure steel box similar to those used by real estate agents.

Cieslik said he’s hoping to get a grant that will cover the cost of the lockboxes for seniors in need. In the meantime, residents can purchase a wall-mount lockbox at the Rochester Fire Department for $159 and a door-hanger box for $174.

For more information, contact the fire station at (248) 651-4470.