Some apartment complexes and neighborhoods are protected by locked gates that can only be accessed by those who are authorized to. These are referred to as gated communities and are very common in many areas. So, what happens if there is a fire, medical or police emergency inside one of these locked down communities? How do firefighters, police, paramedics and other emergency personnel get inside to help?
Firefighters and police are able to access gated communities for emergencies in a few different ways. They are sometimes provided with keys to the areas they serve or the facilities may have special key or code access lockboxes to get inside. When all else fails, they can use forceful techniques to get inside.
First responders frequently need to get into locked areas in order to handle different types of emergencies. We will talk about a few different ways they can go about this. Also, we are going to look at how they get into locked buildings and whether or not they will unlock the door to your house if you get locked out.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
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How Do Fire Trucks Get Into Gated Communities?
Fire trucks get into gated communities using provided access keys, codes, and on-site lockboxes. These allow for quick entry without compromising security.
Firefighters respond to a wide variety of emergencies; everything from fires, to emergency medical calls, to water leaks, to car accidents. In most urban areas, there are communities that are protected with locked gates and fences. This keeps residents safe, but it could also hinder first responders from getting to you in a timely manner.
The fire department I work for, like many others, is provided with a master Knox-box key on every fire engine and truck. This key will unlock any Knox-box in the city.
Each apartment complex and gated community is responsible for installing these boxes in certain, easy to access locations on-site. They also must put all necessary keys, fobs, etc. in the box. This allows any fire crew in the city to access any building with a Knox-box and get all keys to access most areas of the complex.
This key comes with responsibility. Each key is a master key that can access most of the locked areas in the whole city and as such, it must be protected from being lost or stolen, for obvious reasons.
Some of the more frequently visited sites may provide access keys and fobs to the fire engine that staffs the closest fire station. This can save a step, as when the firefighters arrive, they can directly gain entry without having to find and retrieve keys from the lockbox.
There are even some more modern options. There is a technology that can allow a fire engine to trip a sensor that will automatically open a gate when the firefighters arrive, though this is not as common, at least in the city I work. Here is one type of auto gate opener for fire engines.
Lastly, when all of these fail, firefighters will do what is necessary to gain entry to a locked community in an emergency. This may or may not involve forcing gates, doors, or locks. This is not the preferred method, but when time is of the essence, it is sometimes needed.
How Do Firefighters Get Into Homes or Apartments?
Much like gated communities, many times firefighters are met with a locked door that must be accessed in order to handle a medical, fire, or other emergency.
In this scenario, they may be able to access keys in the knox-box as discussed above, however, they don’t usually include personal door keys in these boxes.
If there is no one home or the person inside is unable to come to the door for any reason, the firefighters must find ways to get inside. The different methods used will depend on urgency and type of locked door or other area.
If there is not an obvious emergency, such as a smoke alarm sounding with no signs of smoke or fire, firefighters will take a little more time. They will do whatever possible to get inside without damaging anything.
This can be as simple as checking all the doors to the house. A lot of times we can find an open window, even a small bathroom one, and send the skinniest firefighter through to unlock the door. We can also find other ways to get in the house, like using shove knives, lockpicks, or other tools.
In the event this doesn’t work, or when the situation is more serious and time-sensitive, firefighters will use forcible entry techniques to get inside, which many times will do damage to the home or apartment.
The techniques will vary based on construction. Many times, wood frame doors can simply be kicked down with some effort. More difficult to access doors may need tools like halligans, axes, sledgehammers, and K-tools.
Here is a video showing how firefighters can forcilby enter an inward-swinging metal door:
If hand tools won’t do it, firefighters have saws and other power tools to do the job, check it out here:
Firefighters are known for kicking and chopping down doors when needed, but we always try to do the least amount of damage as possible for the given situation.
How Do Paramedics/Police Get Into a Locked House or Apartment?
Paramedics and police can use some of the same tactics as firefighters to get inside locked homes and apartments, however, they usually aren’t trained or equipped as well as firefighters to do so.
Most of the calls where a paramedic or EMT ambulance crew needs to gain access somewhere, the fire department will also be sent and will usually arrive first. In most instances, firefighters will be the ones working to get inside locked areas. If the department was not dispatched to the call with the ambulance, the ambulance may request firefighter for assistance with locked doors.
Police have a little more training than paramedics and will kick down doors when necessary, but firefighters are the experts when it comes to locked doors and gates. Police may request firefighters to assist on calls with locked doors. They may also request firefighters for ladders, as these can sometimes be used to gain access to elevated windows or other areas.
In general, paramedics and police will rely on firefighters to help get inside locked ares, as they have the necessary tools and training to make it happen.
Will the Fire Department Unlock my House?
So far, we have seen the firefighters have all the training, knowledge, and resources to get inside a locked house or apartment. Does that mean that you can call the fire department to help you get back in your house when you are locked out?
Firefighters usually will not come to unlock your house just because you get locked out. While it can be stressful and inconvenient to get locked out, there are other, more appropriate resources to help you get back inside your house.
In some instances, firefighters will help unlock doors, but that is usually only if a child is inside or the oven is on or there is some other potential emergency. Firefighters need to be available to respond to emergencies, so they usually will not just come to unlock your door.
There are even stories of fire departments who will call the cops when people call them to unlock the door but there is no emergency.
If you are locked out, check all doors and windows and see if any are open. Then call anyone else who has a key (landlord, roommate, family member). If you have no luck, call a locksmith. They can help you get inside with minimal or no damage, but they will charge you to do so.
Also read: Will the Fire Department Unlock My Car?
Firefighters are taught how to gain entry to most anywhere when needed. They have a wide variety of tools for the different situations they can encounter on the job.
They can use these tools to get into gated communities, locked homes, and other areas. They are always looking for the least damaging way to get inside. However, sometimes they need to get in fast and that necessitates more forcible methods.