AUSTIN (KXAN) – Small black boxes are located on many public and private buildings around Austin – from City Hall to apartment complexes – and grant first responders quick access in the schools emergency situations where they don’t have to destroy property or put themselves in danger.
Specifically, the “Knox Box” is opened with a key held by first responders. Inside is a key or other keycard to open the building.
While Austin Fire Department employees have the master key to get inside Knox Boxes, Austin-Travis County EMS paramedics do not. This has been happening since 2018, when The City of Austin changed its Knox Box locking system after a thief was caught stealing the master key.
Lee Nudelman is a former vice president of the EMS Association and said paramedics, like firefighters, will be able to get into those boxes.
“Accessibility is fundamental to being able to help people,” says Nudelman. “If I can’t get to you, I can’t help you.”
We took these concerns to the EMS Interim Director, Jasper Brown, who said access was not an issue. He said firefighters accompany paramedics on high-priority calls, like when someone is having trouble breathing or bleeding excessively.
The doctors also keep codes for buildings they’ve been in, Brown said. In other words, he said they got in somehow.
“I didn’t know it was a problem, we had to have it now,” Brown said of getting the Knox Box key. “We are working through the process with our partners at the Austin Fire Department, and we are sure that we will have [key] when is the right time.”
But Nudelman disagrees, saying emergencies are unpredictable and every second matters.
Sometimes calls are upgraded to higher priority and firefighters have not been dispatched, he added. Nudelman said he has heard of many cases where this has happened to EMS paramedics.
Speaking of those cases, he said, “We are waiting for people to let us in or have to call the fire brigade if they are not dispatched and wait another five, seven minutes for them to come so we can in. “
Brown said EMS is working through security measures to obtain the Knox Box key. He added that careful caution is needed when providing this type of access, not to mention the cost. In 2018, the Austin City Council approved a $300,000 contract to bring in new lock boxes, keys, and related equipment and services.
There are two types of keys that first responders have. Austin firefighters have the aforementioned master keys to enter any Knox Box and access secure protected buildings. Both the AFD and the Austin-Travis County EMS have keys that allow access to thousands of controlled apartment complexes.
Prior to the security changes in 2018, Nudelman said there was one master key to both the apartment and the controlled building, and they were distributed to both firefighters and paramedics.
https://www.kxan.com/investigations/austin-firefighters-have-keys-allowing-access-to-thousands-of-buildings-why-dont-paramedics/ The Austin Fire Department has keys that give access to thousands of buildings. Why not medical staff?