Boxes are key to safety for city’s elderly
Like most emergency response agencies, the Sandwich, Mass., Fire Department occasionally must answer the call of an elderly citizen with a medical emergency. In many of these cases, the involved person may be unable to answer the door. But the fire department did not want to compound whatever trauma is already being suffered by adding to it the breaking down of the citizen’s door.
To avoid just that situation, the city’s Council of Aging worked with local city and fire department officials to create a program that would allow emergency personnel easy access to the distressed individual. With funds donated by the town and private citizens, the council has purchased Knox Boxes, small steel vaults that contain apartment or house keys and can be accessed by fire department personnel.
The idea is not new — the boxes have been widely used by businesses to provide fire department access. But, according to the council director, Jan Timmens, it was Fire Chief Dennis Newman’s idea to adapt it for the kinds of medical and other emergencies that befall the elderly. “He came to the council with the idea and the vault, even providing us with the first box,”‘ she says.
The key boxes then became part of the council’s elderly outreach program, largely paid for by funds generated by its annual Christmas Fair.
The 1/4-inch steel vaults house keys and can be opened by a special, high-security key kept by the city’s ambulance service. Either mounted directly to the wall or over the doors, as is the case in Sandwich, the vaults are virtually immune to damage or tampering.
Paramedics arriving at the residence can quickly retrieve the key and respond to the emergency. When they leave, the home is secured and the key replaced.
The council currently owns more than 30 key vaults. Those interested in using one apply to the council or are encouraged by emergency service personnel to fill out applications kept in city ambulances.
Ambulances notify the council whenever they transport anyone over 60, and the council then contacts the patient regarding issues such as nursing support and nutrition. If a box is requested, the ambulance personnel install it and explain its use to the resident.
“We had support from many local organizations,” Newman says of the program, which drew favorable coverage in the local press.