Waterloo: Lock box ordinance here a success - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo: Lock box ordinance here a success

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Despite concerns from many people, the Cedar Falls city council has passed a new ordinance involving lock boxes.  It's a change from rules already in effect for seven years which required business and industrial properties to have at least one of three things:  a sprinkler system, their own alarms, or a local alarm, to have a box with a key to their building.

Now, apartment buildings with three or more units must have a lock box.  The previous ordinance required them when there were six or more units.  Cedar Falls mayor Jon Crews tried to explain the changes to people against the ordinance Monday night.

"The only, in essence, the change is not changing the commercial application or as some people said...  The law is exactly the same format for commercial businesses that before this motion passed.  The change is going from six to three, is really the only change.  The language, intent is not changed... and the commercial isn't changed," Mayor Crews said.

The Cedar Falls City Council felt comfortable expanding the lock box ordinance partly because so many other cities have successful lock box programs.

Waterloo has had a lock box ordinance in place for about a decade.  And fire officials say they access at least one box a week for a variety of reasons and believe the system has worked very well.

If you walk into the new Health Education and Services Center at Hawkeye Community College, you probably won't even notice the small gray box along the wall.  It's a lock box with the means for firefighters to enter the building in an emergency.

"We can get out here before the key holder might arrive, gain access, and not have to wait around for the key holder to arrive.  We can get in, silence the alarm if that's the appropriate thing to do, clear the building to make sure it's safe.  And it just speeds up our overall response into the building," said Pat Treloar, Waterloo Chief of Fire Services.

And often, turning off the alarm is all that's required.  So using the key to enter the buildings stops firefighters from unnecessarily breaking down doors and windows.  It can also prevent costly damage from something like a pipe or sprinkler burst, such as the one that happened at Waterloo East High back in January.  By getting into the building quickly, firefighters can shut off the valves before a property is inundated with water.  

And there are also times when getting in fast can be a matter of life or death.

"It enables us to get into the building quicker to get into an apartment where maybe a lifeline request has gone off," said Treloar.

Treloar says there have been instances like that where a senior citizen has fallen down or may have suffered a health problem and just can't open the door for first responders.  So in a wide range of situations, lock boxes have proven to be a valuable tool in providing quick help in an emergency.

The brand of lock boxes used in Waterloo and thousands of other communities has also been found to be very safe.  Knox boxes have been thoroughly tested by Underwriters Laboratories for durability and are very difficult for the average lock pick to break into.           

Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City all have some sort of lock box program in place.

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