Does your department force entry on alarm bell or activated alarms if there is no key holder is available? Do you try to utilize thru the lock entry? . Is there a policy in place if you think it is a malfunctioning alarm?
If there is nothing showing and/or any indication of a fire, we will do a 360 and clear the sence if Fire alarm has no other info to warrant forcable entry. If we force our way into every building we respond to, I think there would be a public out cry reguarding the damage done when key holders or building owners ect are not responding. I Massachusetts, the alarm company or owner has 2 hours to respond. I have gone back maybe, twice in 22 years to find something on fire. Yes it happens, but not very often.
I think forcing entry is at the discretion of the company officer or IC. If a keyholder is not available the on scene companies will conduct a thorough size up. If nothing is out of the ordinary companies will usually clear the scene as a false alarm. If there is anything out of the ordinary and the company officer or IC feels further evaluation / investigation is needed they will force entry. Per protocol we have a police officer dispatched to the scene on all forced entry situations. If the call is a medical alarm with no one answering the door and no keyholder available we would force entry to check for an occupant having a medical emergency who may not be able to communicate or open the door. For commercial buildings / apartment buildings we advocate some type of FD Key entry system such as Knox Box or EAS. As far as using the thru the lock method it has been my experience most guys do not. They utilize various methods, depending on the type of door & jam, using a halligan & falt head axe or the hydraram tool. I'm not sure why but would speculate we train more on those methods than the thru the lock method. As you know fireground operations will mimick training operations. I did find Brent's comment "If we need to make entry, we call PD and let them make entry for us. This is on fire alarms and medical alarms as well." interesting. Does your PD have the training and tools to conduct forcible entry? Our PD calls us for all forcible entry other than law enforcement / SWAT type operations. From a customer service standpoint, it makes sense to utilize a thru the lock method to minimize damage and enable us to secure the premise when we leave. There is nothing worse than the Chief receiving a repair bill from a pissed off taxpayer after we destroyed his door!
I have been trying to implement a little bit of this with my department. Our mindset, whether right or wrong, is to cause as little damage as possible. My thinking is that other than a knox box, through the lock entry would be the way to go. I've never seen it done as you have shown on your video in the other post; however, I have been wanting to try it with an Adams Rite lock...having never actually performed the evolution, my concern is how much "damage" you cause to the lock assembly and what it costs for the building owner to have the locksmith reset the set-screw. I've also been taught (by another department) to use a K12 saw to make a slit above a panic bar and use a framing square to pull on the panic hardware to open the door.
We survey the scene and call for a key holder. Obviously if fire is present, water gong, water from sprinkler system we don't hesitate. If nothing showing we will wait for the key holder for a little while. We enter structures when the alarm indicates, many structures may have lots of stuff going on in interior rooms and not be visible from outside or through the windows. Never had a complaint (that I know of) from the occupant. We make all attempts to limit the amount of damage, pick a door that has the best chance of opening without great damage. We do our best to secure the structure when we leave.
Lots of our structures have Knox Rapid Entry systems. This has proven to be very effective, engine companies do a fairly consistant job of getting the Knox Rapid Entry system information out in there territories, even when the business changes hands.
In our department we would also do our best to conduct a 360 degree size up and visual inspection of the building. If there were no indications of smoke or fire we will not force entry. Through the city computer system we have access to a great deal of property owner contact information with which to contact the building owner or property manager. If someone with a key is within a reasonable distance we will have a fire company stand-by (in service for another run) for them. We have also been successful with a program of installing small steel key safes on the exterior of many buildings in the city. Through the fire prevention office a building owner may order and have installed, at their expense, a small steel key safe. This safe is mounted on the exterior of the building, close to the main entrance. In it are the keys to the building that the owner and fire dept. agree will be most useful to the FD and minimize the potential for unnecessary damage. The fire department companies each carry a very unique key that will open all of these key safes throughout the city. This program has avoided unnecessary damage to doors and also allows us to get in, investigate the alarm thoroughly, and get out without time spent waiting for a key holder.
All of our commercial buildings have a Knox box. 99% of the time this works for entry. If for some reason the key is not current, we will then attempt to “bump” the lock with bump keys. As mentioned before we also do a 360 degree walk around especially for residential areas. We do our best to not force entry for true alarms. It is our OIC to determine what course of action we need to take.
Our policy was to do the 360, try the doors, look in windows, call for a key, etc., but not force entry unless there is fire or smoke. That changed just over a year ago during winter break.
We had a Chief's Investigation for an alarm at a known second home around 0400. (We are a volunteer department in a resort community, with lots of second homes.) Dispatch contacted the caretaker, who didn't have a key. No evidence of a problem could be found and the duty chief declared it a false alarm. We got a structure fire call for the house at 0830, fully involved, we went defensive from the start, and saved the tennis court.
The district, department and all responders are being sued for $2 million! They only had the mortgage insured, so the want someone to cover the rest of the replacement cost.
The policy has changed. For any automatic alarm, entry is now required, even at the expense of a broken door, window, or lock. I know that the homeowner will loose the suit, but it will cost the taxpayers a bundle to defend, and a lot of other homeowners the replacement costs for broken property or Knox Boxes or hiring a caretaker with a key. The good part is that we will no longer have an ambiguous end to an automatic alarm.
Maybe its because I'm a cynic; which homeowner will sue the department afer the FD force's entry, finds nothing but the homeowner now makes accusations that something is missing ect. Or that "needless" damage was done. It's a "loose, loose". I always make sure we have PD on scene, and never enter without a witness.
I too am cynical. I have seen fellow firefighters accused of theft in the past few years and the city pay for damages when there was no emergency. In my Department, if we see nothing, smell nothing etc after an investigation then it's ruled accidental or false. If there is no keyholder or knox box, we clear the scene and let the alarm company handle the situation. if entry is absolutely necesasary, PD is requested.
We require every commercial building with a fire alarm or sprinkler system in it to install a Knox Box. We have over 1,000 boxes in town so the chances of us having to force enrty into a building is low. If by chance the FD needs to force entry to the building, the police respond and document the entry.
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