Lost key costs Anchorage thousands

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A single key lost by the Anchorage Fire Department has forced the city to re-key more than 700 lock boxes mounted outside businesses, schools and other buildings.

The blunder will cost the city at least $30,000, according to a report by KTUU-TV.

The lock boxes are called Knox Boxes and are meant to help firefighters enter burning buildings quickly without damaging them. The city's fire code requires the boxes to be installed on public and commercial buildings. Inside are keys to the building and all locked doors.

The key was lost in January. No businesses were notified for weeks until a television reporter made inquiries.

Fire inspector Cleo Hill said the key was lost from a locked drug box inside the chief paramedic's truck. No one knows exactly who lost the key or how, but fire officials say it likely got tossed out of the truck somehow during an emergency.

The key's absence was first noticed and reported to the deputy chief on Jan. 23. Chief John Fullenwider said he heard about it a week or so later but decided to keep it quiet and order new locks without publicity.

When word got out, the fire chief said, the department had to empty the boxes before someone found the key and realized it could open 700 buildings all around Anchorage.

Fullenwider said he made a mistake and that ''in retrospect, I should have acted sooner.''

Anchorage Fire Department officials said Friday the lock box system is now better than ever because improvements were made and stricter controls put in place.

''The central lock decoder is a control lock box that's on the apparatus that was not on all of the apparatus before,'' said Bridget Bushue, deputy chief of fire prevention. ''It will be now. No one will have a Knox box key that does not have a central lock decoder. That's the control mechanism we didn't have previously.''

Bushue said lock box front panels all have been re-keyed and the lock boxes will all be working again this week.

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