Lehigh Valley

Knox-Box Discussion still hot topic in Lower Macungie Township

LOWER MACUNGIE TOWNSHIP, Pa. - A hot-button topic was aired at Thursday’s meeting of the Lower Macungie Township commissioners: Saying it's a safety measure, Lower Macungie's fire chief defended the township's fire access key box policy, an issue that has fired up some business owners who say it's an example of government overreach.

Better known as Knox-Boxes, the devices allow firefighters to access the box and use the keys in it to fight fires or address other emergency situations when no one is present to let them in.

The Knox-Boxes were adopted by an addition to the township's code on July 2, 2009.

"The purpose and intent … is that when fire breaks out within a structure, firefighters are not blocked or delayed from combating the fire by locked doors or gates," states Section 7-301.

Commercial and industrial structures are required to install and maintain a box as designated by the township. The owner is responsible for ordering and installing the box, according to the township's code. Any person, firm or corporation that fails to comply is subjected to a fine up to $1,000 if convicted. Each day the violation continues is considered a separate offense.

Fire Chief David Nosal said the boxes are a safety measure that helps firefighters protect the public and themselves. Seconds are crucial in combating fires and the boxes provide easier access to businesses, he said Thursday night.

Nosal added that it's safer for firefighters, who are already engaged in a dangerous profession, to enter a building with keys rather than by forcibly entering a building by knocking down a door or breaking a window.

"It makes sense," said Commissioner Ronald W. Beitler of the Knox-Boxes. "It's smart to give the fire department the tools they need."

Recently Daniel Ring, owner of the Trio Country Butcher, contested purchasing the box on the premise that it was an infringement of his Constitutional rights through overreaching government intervention.

When Nosal explained the necessity for the boxes, he acknowledged the concept of the government overreach argument.

"I got it, I understand," he said.

Ronald W. Beitler said that while he was personally in favor of the Knox-Boxes, he was open to considering an "opt out policy" for those businesses not wishing to participate. This would be done only if the business would completely absolve the township and fire department of any liability. Fire department officials cautioned against giving businesses an option, saying it could have a negative effect.

President Douglas Brown wasn't open to changing anything. 

"The policy is fine the way it is," he said.

The legislative body took no action on the policy during Thursday night's meeting.

During a public comment session, Troy Binder, co-owner of Binder's Automotive, said that when he arrived at the meeting to hear Nosal's presentation he was against the Knox-Boxes. However, after listening to the fire chief's speech, he adopted a view that included an acceptance of the boxes and admiration for the firefighters who use them.

His change of heart, however, did include a request to the commissioners: to remember that government operates under enumerated powers and should not encroach on freedoms guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution of the United States.

"We cannot give that up as Americans," he said.


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