Rome Fire Marshal Mary Catherine Chewning dreams of a day when firefighters don’t have to carry massive key rings or waste critical time and fuel idling outside locked buildings when fire alarms go off.

That dream came one step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday after Chewning spoke to Rome City Commission’s Public Safety Committee about drafting an ordinance requiring all new construction to obtain a rapid access program known as KnoxBox.

“I am very excited about this,” Chewning said as she explained the system adopted by 14,000 public agencies nationwide, including Atlanta Fire, Bartow County and the City of Calhoun. “This is a good thing for Rome and Floyd County and could ultimately save lives.”

Chewning told them it would save more than $5,000 per year in fuel costs for the department by cutting down on the amount of time fire trucks are idling outside a building.

Southeastern Mills, Del Taco, Ball Corp., Martin’s Real Estate and Hoyt Hill gated town homes already are on board with the program, which involves a specifically-coded master key kept by the Rome-Floyd Fire Department that would match special lock boxes installed at those locations.

The corresponding KnoxBoxes would contain the properties’ entry keys, enabling firefighters to enter immediately and not have to wait for a property manager or maintenance person to arrive.

“This would go a long way toward reducing response time,” Chewning said. “It will cut down on fire and water damage, decrease insurance claims and rates and truly be a win-win for everyone.”

Howard Gray, property manager for Martin’s Real Estate, said Tuesday he ordered the KnoxBox system for the four-story building at Second Avenue and Broad Street because he wants emergency personnel to be able to access the building when no one is on site.

“I don’t want the fire department to have to bust the door open,” Gray said. “The thing is, they will have their own key to our lock boxes and will have authority to enter based on that code. I definitely feel there is the potential to save money down the road, but the most important thing is being able to get in right away and maybe even save someone’s life.”

Hoyt Hill developer Jack Pearson said the eight new gated town homes off West First Street in downtown Rome will have the KnoxBox system installed next week before residents move in.

Pearson said this was always part of his plan.

“I never want to jeopardize an ambulance from getting up to the property if need be,” he said, adding the security gate will be very hi-tech, allowing residents to access it from a phone app to let people in when they’re out of town.

Public Safety Committee members Craig McDaniel and Randy Quick both said they were impressed with the system Tuesday and liked the fact that a business can order it through the fire department for less than $350.

City Manager Sammy Rich said he’d work on drafting an ordinance they can send to the Rome City Commission. He said later that, while the ordinance wouldn’t require existing buildings to have the system, the city hopes as many current businesses, commercial buildings and gated residential facilities as possible would volunteer to join the program.

Anyone interested in ordering a KnoxBox can contact Chewning directly at 706-591-0025.

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