“Our accountability isn’t the best here,” said David Carter, Deputy Chief of the Phoenix Fire Department. He was speaking about the 850 keys that have gone missing over a period of 15 years, blaming losses on the department’s poor record keeping. According to the department’s recent audit, 63% of the original 1,350 copies that the city had in 1999 have vanished over the years.
The missing keys aren’t used to directly access buildings and homes, but are used to unlock key boxes, which are security devices housing keys that actually do unlock buildings. Such a system allows the fire department to access commercial buildings and apartment complexes when closed without having to break down doors or windows to enter, while also minimizing the amount of keys needed.
The system was also intended to help the fire department stay organized, but apparently failed to do so. According to Carter, some of the keys were broken and replaced, and/or they changed hands when firefighters retired. He said, “We’ve probably not done a good job in tracking whether that key was returned to us.”
If a single key were to fall into the wrong hands, it would give that person access to nearly 9,000 businesses. Thankfully, Carter said that there hasn’t been any indication that the keys have so far been used for criminal purposes, which means that the keys weren’t stolen–just misplaced.
“Now that we have combination lock boxes, it might be a better idea to use one universal combination for all of the key boxes, rather than to use separate keys for everything,” says Ryan, Marketing Director at MFS Supply.
However, Shelly Jamison, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Fire Department, said that the keys’ true purpose wouldn’t be obvious to anyone outside of the fire service, making the risk to businesses minimal.
Such serious implications are also the reason why the department and the city will pay to have $50,000 to have the key boxes rekeyed throughout the next 12 weeks.
In addition to paying for the replacements, the department now has new rules to regulate the keys. There will be fewer copies of the keys made. There will be more thorough logs kept that will record to whom a key’s assigned. Also, a police report will have to be filed if any keys go missing from the firetrucks.