Thieves continue to access secure buildings using fire department lock boxes

Lock boxes give a way in

They are supposed to give firefighters a way to access secure areas of a building during a fire.

Instead, thieves have found a way to access fire department locked key boxes as a way to gain entry into those same areas.

Kelowna RCMP say it's been a problem for a few years now.

It reached a peak a year ago with as many as 16 incidents over a one month period.

The latest incident occurred recently at an apartment on Dilworth Drive where a resident says thieves were able to steal a flat screen TV from a rec room and clean out storage lockers after breaking into a lock box.

"It's been an issue. There have been several break-ins of these lock boxes," acknowledges Kelowna Fire Department fire prevention officer Paul Johnson, who says the lock boxes on site are a requirement of the fire code but property of the building.

"We took steps last year to advise everybody that have a lock box they can either upgrade their box to a newer type or upgrade the existing box."

Johnson says a secure box is available through an American company while an upgraded tumbler has been approved by the RCMP.

"The problem," says Johnson, "is a lot of thieves have battery-powered tools...grinders, titanium drills, and are able to do a lot of stuff with them.

"If the box is in a secluded location or a dark location, it's an opportunity for the bad guys."

He says lock boxes should be relocated to a central, more visible location which would make accessing them more problematic for would-be thieves.

According to the fire code, buildings with fire suppression systems must provide access to the fire department. That works out to 1,200 to 1,500 buildings in the city.

He also reminds thieves lock boxes do not provide access to the entire building as is believed.

"The reality," be says, "is it's only the service rooms and fire alarm panel that is in those lock boxes."

The growing number of thefts is also becoming problematic for the fire department in an emergency.

"People are trying to secure their buildings and we are finding exit doors are now locked, creating quite a problem for our prevention division because we are following up on complaints where building owners are trying to protect their property, but the reality is at times it is impeding egress that we have to act upon."

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