CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Opposition failed to lock down efforts Monday to expand the use of key boxes for emergency responders in Cedar Falls.

In March the City Council approved the first reading for an ordinance adopting new fire codes. However, at the time Councilman Nick Taiber objected to a section that would increase the number of property owners that would be required to have key boxes on site for fire rescue personnel to access buildings in an emergency.

The Evansdale City Council in March voted against requiring such lock boxes over concerns about security and expense.

Cedar Falls already has had an ordinance requiring the lock boxes on commercial properties that have alarms systems, sprinkler systems or for buildings with six or more residential units. That ordinance has been in place since 2002.

The new ordinance would require the boxes be installed on all of those properties, plus buildings with three or more residential units.

Taiber said it's an unfunded mandate, adding expense for property owners who should have a choice in the matter.

"You can justify a lot of this on life protection and property protection, and I agree. But I can't see making this mandatory," Taiber said.

With the lock boxes, property owners place keys to the property in a box accessible only by a master key that is kept by the fire department.

Taiber also questioned whether the city takes on too much responsibility by having a key to all of these businesses.

Fire Chief John Schilling said the most basic model costs about $250. But he said a commercial door can cost $2,000, and the lock box will keep the department from having to break such doors down to investigate an alarm. It also saves the fire department time in responding to calls.

"I hear what you're saying about unfunded mandates, but I'm concerned about safety," Councilman John Runchey said to Taiber.

The council took no vote Monday, but Taiber was the only member to voice his opposition to the new ordinance.

Schilling said the department used the lock box keys about 120 times last year. There are currently 269 buildings in Cedar Falls that have the boxes.

Council member Susan de Buhr saw Taiber's point about making the lockboxes mandatory, but gave the safety issue more weight.

"I think in a perfect world you wouldn't make this mandatory, people would put them in for the safety of their tenants, but they don't do it," de Buhr said.

(3) comments


"Fire Chief John Schilling said the most basic model costs about $250. But he said a commercial door can cost $2,000"

"Schilling said the department used the lock box keys about 120 times last year"

Anyone else feel like cherry picking numbers? In my opinion, that constitutes a lie.


Nanny State, Nanny City, Nanny Feds - not really a difference. If we just did what we were told, they wouldn't have to make these kinds of laws.

What rental property in CF has a $2,000 front door? Laughable.


It would be good to know what the 120 times were for. Were they real emergencies or more of a convenience such as when a false fire alarm needed to be shut off.

In reference to safety, this is what landlords are trying to protect. How safe would you feel if the key to your private unit was on the outside of the building in a very conspicuous spot? It was just a few years ago that thieves took the whole money box from off a car wash wall. I would not want the fire truck to come to a building, find the lock box, open it, find the right key to the unit and then go and unlock the door to get in. Bash down the door and start fighting the fire before it doubles or triples in size, which happens extremely quickly. I don't know of any good door to residences that cost $2000. Those are doors on commercial buildings.
There are also too many stories in the newspapers about criminal behavior by firemen. You don't have to go any further than the Waterloo Courier.
The fire department says they have lost only one box and that was in a fire. So that box is out there, and it can be opened? That means that everyone who lives in a property with a lock box is now at risk.
When I looked up information on the Knox boxes, I found that they are used to get access to the common areas in the buildings and sprinkler and fire alarms rooms, not private dwelling units! In the case of installing them to aid people who are too ill or handicapped to be able to open the door, the program is voluntary. Most fatal fires are in homes without smoke alarms. Rental properties have many smoke alarms and have to pass inspection. This is not true for private homes, so it seems more logical for the lock boxes to be placed where there is the most danger - on homes that are not required to have safety devices and are not inspected by the city.

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