By Sallie James
How would fire rescue workers get into your house if you had an emergency and couldn’t open the door to let them inside?
It’s a question that haunted Tamarac resident Carol Mendelson after a close friend collapsed and fell unconscious inside her Coral Springs home, where she lay for hours until someone called 911 for help.
Unfortunately, when the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department arrived, they had to contact multiple sources to track down someone with a key.
Mendelson, of Woodmont, was concerned that this could happen to her or others.
Mendelson’s neighbor has a key but is often out of town. She didn’t like the idea of rescue workers breaking down her front door if her neighbor was out, so she bought a digital lock box to safely store a key outside.
Then she faced another dilemma; how to share the lockbox code with the Fire Department.
She contacted Tamarac Fire Rescue and discovered an existing but poorly-publicized online program called “Community Connect” that allows someone to register their personal emergency information with the Fire Department. The online form includes a space to enter a code for a personal lock box, so rescue workers can immediately access the residence.
“I never realized how fabulous this is and what it offers,” Mendelson said. “Tamarac Fire Rescue allows me to input specific information for the digital lockbox. So the minute a call is dispatched to my home, firefighters immediately get the lockbox code to get the key to get into my house for an emergency.”
Assistant Tamarac Fire Chief Jonathan Frasher said the system could save lives because it saves time.
If firefighters get an emergency call but can’t get inside a residence because they don’t have a key and have to use a sledgehammer to breach the door, it can take too long for someone who is not breathing.
“Every minute matters,” Frasher said. Residents who don’t have digital lockboxes can include detailed information in the registration form about where to get a house key.
Frasher suggested residents list anything inside their homes that firefighters should know about, including unfriendly pets, oxygen, mobility devices, as well as the location of bedrooms.
Dispatchers can provide firefighters with all the data linked to the address before rescue workers arrive on the scene. And if there is a lockbox code, entry will be lightning fast.
“As fast as you can walk up and hit four characters, you’re in the house,” Frasher said. “You would probably be in the house faster than if you knocked on the door and the people walked from the bedroom to the front door.”
Frasher said the registration form was introduced about 1 1/2 years ago.
Mendelson recently helped three friends enter their emergency information into the program. None of them knew about the program and wondered why the city had not publicized such a valuable tool.
Mendelson said the city should hold sign-up events around the city to assist residents who need help accessing the program.
“It’s a lifesaving tool, particularly with all the elderly people in the city,” Mendelson said. “The city can be the hero by sharing this program with residents and promoting it so more people benefit.”
The digital registration form can be found at TamaracFireRescue.org.
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- Sallie James is a veteran reporter/blogger/copywriter who spent most of her writing career in South Florida, including 22 years at the Sun Sentinel. She has also freelanced for The Coastal Star, South Florida Gay News & Florida Weekly. Sallie is the mother of grown boy/girl twins, a Guardian ad Litem, an animal rescuer, and a longtime Tamarac resident. She earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Indiana University.
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