File photo by ADVOCATE staff Red Deer County firefighters extinguishing a barn fire north of Red Deer in 2014.

Gated property owners should plan for emergency access, say rural fire departments

More rural property owners opting for heavy-duty gates

Rural crime fears have led more homeowners to protect their property with gates.

However, keeping criminals at bay can also hinder emergency services responding to a fire or health emergency.

This week, Lacombe County Fire Chief Drayton Bussiere encouraged homeowners with gates to do some pre-planning to ensure first responders are not unnecessarily delayed.

“We encourage anyone with a gate to make a plan which allows fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles to access their property,” he said.

Bussiere said his message was not prompted by any specific cases where firefighters had to get through a locked gate.

“It really was just some observation we were making that gates were being more popular. I was just trying to be proactive in the sense that we want to get people thinking about these things.”

Depending on the gate, there are a number of options. Some gates will open automatically when the fire alarm goes off, or can be opened remotely by the owner when notified of a problem at their home.

Lock boxes, which have been used on commercial buildings for years, are another possible option.

Red Deer County Deputy Fire Chief Travis Allred said they have already planned for the possibility that first responders could run up against locked gates — including more elaborate barriers than the fence gates with a chain and padlock that were common in the past.

“We get calls occasional about this. I think it is getting more common for people to gate their communities or residences,” said Allred.

“On a fairly frequent basis, we get people asking for advice.”

Rest assured, in an emergency, firefighters will not let a gate stop them from doing their job, both Bussiere and Allred emphasized.

“We have encountered these gates in the past and we were able to bypass the gates and get into the properties,” said Allred.

“The fact of the matter is, we will get in.”

Allred did not want to go into too much detail about how they go about that, so as not to offer tips to potential thieves. But firefighters have plenty of tools on their trucks to get through gates if they have to.

Taking a run at a gate with a fire truck is more Hollywood than reality, and would not happen, he said.

“We have the tools, we have the means, to gain access to things.”

Allred said the fire department does not collect codes or keys for individual properties, because it would be impractical and difficult to keep up to date. But having a trusted neighbour with information on how to get in can be useful, he said.

“The very best thing people can do is pre-planning by contacting the fire department and getting the information on what we would need.”

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