BY KEN LITTLE
The Tusculum Planning Commission Tuesday night approved changing minor language in an ordinance to allow the installation of key-operated Knox Boxes on the exterior of certain buildings in the city.
A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held at the next planning commission meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9.
Following the public hearing, members are expected to recommend passage of the ordinance to the Board of Mayor and Commissioners, which will also hold a public hearing and must approve it on two readings for the measure to go into effect.
Local Planner Rebecca Ketchie suggested the ordinance include language acknowledging that a public hearing was held before the planning commission approves recommending it to the Board of Mayor and Commissioners.
Existing buildings in the city won't be obligated to install the Knox Boxes, which cost about $300.
Knox Box is a brand name. Their installation would provide easier access for members of the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department in the event of an emergency.
"When we have an alarm or a fire is reported, we want to be able to get into the building and check it out without having to tear something up," said Alan Corley, a member of both the planning commission and the fire department.
The "Rapid Entry System" ordinance promotes the safety of Tusculum residents and allows quicker response to fires, Corley said.
"It's a system by key allowing the fire department to make a quick entry to certain commercial buildings and some family residential buildings," Planning Commission Chairman Robert Bird said.
Bird raised the question of whether the ordinance would cover the new construction planned at Tusculum College.
Corley said the college has a contract with the Greeneville Fire Department for first responder coverage, so the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department would act in a secondary role, but the ordinance may require Knox Boxes in some new buildings.
In that event, Corley said, the Greeneville Fire Department would keep the master key to Knox Boxes on new college buildings.
The ordinance requires certain structures "to have a key lock box installed on the exterior of the structure to provide rapid entry into buildings by the fire department responding in the city during times of emergency."
IN NATIONAL USE
The Knox Box system has been adopted nationally, including in Greeneville, and will operate on a controlled master key basis "that will expedite entry" by the fire department in an emergency.
"We want to assure the public that the (master) keys will be secured," Corley said. "There's lots of record-keeping that goes along with that."
The lock box system has many advantages, Corley said. One is the elimination of costly damage "from forcible entry by the fire department into a structure during an emergency," the ordinance states.
It also reduces "the potential for rapid extension of fire and other hazardous conditions by quick access and decreasing dangers for firefighters," according to the ordinance.
Under conditions of the ordinance, the following types of buildings would be required to have lock boxes:
* New construction of any apartment building or other rental building containing four or more residential living units, and in which access to the building or common areas, or common or electrical rooms within the buildings, is denied through locked doors.
* New construction of any non-residential building where a fire detection or suppression system is monitored by an alarm company or has an external audible alarm.
* New construction of any building or facility containing a quantity of hazardous materials that would require compliance with the federal Superfund Amendment Reauthorization Act.
* New installation of private security gates for subdivisions.
ANNEXATION STATE TOPIC
In other business, Ketchie discussed current legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The "very controversial" annexation issue has prompted several bills currently in committee or subcommittee, she said.
"A lot of bills have to do with annexation by referendum only," Ketchie said. "(Legislators) want to get away from annexation by ordinance."
Bird, a former Tusculum mayor, is supportive of the proposed annexation legislation.
"In the past, we have based much of ours on request," he said. "(It's) an advantage to them as well as to us."
Ketchie said a property-owner opposed to annexation could still get annexed by referendum if the majority supports it.