Printed from the blog of Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI
Email:, Blog: or

Feb 02 2017

WWYD? Getting IN

Category: Locks & Keys,WWYD?Lori @ 11:50 am Comments (24)

This question has come up several times lately, and I have not yet found an answer in the codes; I’m hoping one of you might know where to look.  The model codes are clear about egress, but what about emergency access to a building?  Some codes require a key box mounted outside of the entrance that contains the keys or cards needed for firefighters to enter the building.  But where do the codes state which exterior doors need key cylinders or another means of emergency access?

Doors that are not typically used for access are often specified as “exit only,” with panic hardware that has no outside trim, or an exit lock with no exterior lever.  Reducing the number of access points can have a positive effect on security, but it can also limit the emergency access for firefighters, or for law enforcement responding to an incident within the building.

Which exterior doors are required to have key access, and how do firefighters identify the doors that can be used without wasting time searching for a way to enter the building?  I know that there are other methods that can be used to gain access, but in addition to the extra time and property damage, “breaking and entering” could also alert an active shooter to approaching law enforcement.


24 Responses to “WWYD? Getting IN”

  1. A.J. Vanhooser says:

    This sounds like more of an issue that is addressed at the local level with the Building Official or Fire / Life Safety Plan review. I had a project several years ago in Marco Island, FL that before they would give the CO, the Fire Department required an 8.5×11 plan of the building showing where the FDC, fire hydrants, and knox box were located. The idea being that each truck had a binder with these plans on board so while they were in route, they could flip it open and see where everything was before they got there. This seemed like a really good idea but it’s the only place I’ve ever encountered it, and might be hard to maintain in large jurisdictions.

  2. Alan Itzkowitz says:

    On projects I have worked on that required the key box, the local Fire Marshall is the entity that tells the Architect where to locate it.

  3. James Slemmons says:

    Can’t think of a code, but to quote a fire marshal we spoke to, “We carry axes.”

  4. Chuck Park says:

    The security side of me says to make most or all exits “Exit Only”, but the safety side of me says to make, at a minimum, the stairwell exits accessible by key. And that would specifically be a mechanical key only to eliminate any electrical issues getting in the way of emergency use.

  5. Ken says:

    506 of 2015 IFC gives the fire code official the authority to determine this

  6. Anthony Wan says:

    I would always put at least a lock on the exterior especially if it’s in a fire exit path, unless authorized by an AHJ to have it exit only.

  7. Cda says:

    Yes there are very few times the code dictates access

    Fire command center

    Stairwell doors

    High piled stock buildings

    From IFC:

    1 Where required.
    Where access to or within a structure or an area is restricted because of secured openings or where immediate access is necessary for life-saving or fire-fighting purposes, the fire code official is authorized to require a key box to be installed in an approved location. The key box shall be of an approved type listed in accordance with UL 1037, and shall contain keys to gain necessary access as required by the fire code official.

    We locally will sometimes require certain doors to be keyed.

    Also depending on security devices, may require a Knox key switch on the outside, to override a system, so we can get in.

    Or axe or gas saw are the back up.

    Just like the talk on school security, make it to secure and police may not be able to enter??

  8. Jim Elder says:

    I don’t think it matters as long as the door can be accessed, the fire department knows of the location and, the fire alarm annunciator panel is located immediately inside the door (I believe you can find that in the Fire Alarm Code). So in my view, let the fire department tell you. The problem is, that police don’t necessary get the same message, and some PDs do not carry a key to the Knox Box. Moreover, if you are the tactical guy, you may need to go through any door depending upon the situation. Only recently have PDs begun to carry forced entry tools, but as you pointed out, the noise a forced entry makes, may not be in the best interest of the responders.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jim –

      The problem is that we’re specifying a project, we have no contact with law enforcement or the fire department, so I was hoping to find some official guidelines on which doors require cylinders.

      – Lori

  9. Glenn Younger says:

    Although this the CA fire code, it is adopted from the ICC International Fire Codes.

    Calif Fire code,
    Chapter 5 Fire Service Features. The requirements of this chapter apply to all buildings and
    occupancies and pertain to access roads; access to building openings and roofs; premises identification;
    key boxes; fire protection water supplies; fire command centers; fire department access to
    equipment and emergency responder radio coverage in buildings.
    As with other chapters of theInternational Fire Code, Section 502 contains a list of terms that are defined in Chapter 2 and are
    applicable to the chapter contents.

  10. Glenn Younger says:

    Here is the listing in the CA Fire code, adopted from the International Fire code. This is where the Fire Services get their authority to require Key boxes. Nothing sadi about what doors must be accessable.
    506.1 Where required. Where access to or within a structure
    or an area is restricted because of secured openings or where
    immediate access is necessary for life-saving or fire-fighting
    purposes, the fire code official is authorized to require a key
    box to be installed in an approved location. The key box shall
    be of an approved type listed in accordance with UL 1037,
    and shall contain keys to gain necessary access as required by
    the fire code official.
    506.1.1 Locks. An approved lock shall be installed on
    gates or similar barriers when required by the fire code

  11. Glenn Younger says:

    SECTION 504
    504.1 Required access. Exterior doors and openings required
    by this code or the California Building Code shall be maintained
    readily accessible for emergency access by the fire

    • Lori says:

      Do you think “readily accessible” = equipped with a key cylinder?

      – Lori

      • Glenn Younger says:

        Yes, seems like they are wanting it to be able to be opened with a key. I believe that is what the fire service is after. I know that the GE/Supra/Kidde company has an external box for holding keys that was entirely electronic, but they had to redesign to allow key bypass, to satisfy fire service first responders.

        The Knox Box, and the Supra (now Kidde) external key box companies promote their products to meet this National Fire Code.

        These key boxes are generally installed at least 6′(73″) AFF. We’ve assumed that it is So that a fireman with a ladder can get to it and it is less likely to be vandalized.

  12. David Barbaree says:

    I think the trim you show there is a good selection for exterior doors. It also would seem reasonable to use a trim less prone to more aggressive entry attempts in areas where it might be needed. An Allegion spec writer suggested this pull ( and I think it is also a good solution where security might be concerned that someone will wrap a rope or chain to pull the door open.
    Otherwise, if it is applicable, I think it would be best to key all the perimeter doors with restricted keys that are only available to security and/or first responders (knox-box). This would channel all normal traffic through access controlled entrances and still allow emergency entry through various perimeter exits.

  13. Karl Seaman says:

    We have one box located on the front of our building which has three entry storefront doors. The door is located at the furthest end of the building from the main entry road. The face of the building is approx. 160-180′ long. Under the box is a sign “FACP” above the bx is a strobe light which is attached to our Fire Alarm Panel. We were required to have only one location with the box. However most of the time the Fireman use the AXE Or Sledge Hammer Key.

  14. Eric says:

    The only code requirement for fire department access that comes to mind (besides sprinkler rooms) for side or rear doors is for buildings with high pile storage. I believe this is found in NFPA not building code. Generally for this storage, access doors are required every 100′ along the building perimeter for fire department access. Local fire departments usually dictate when other exterior access is required.

  15. Bob Wild says:

    My experiences have been that this falls on “local” code, and in most cases, to the local fire department or fire marshal.

    Referred to as a “Knox Box” (

    If you read how that system is set-up, it’s self explanatory.

    Generally installed at the main entrance, either on the exterior of the building, or in an un-locked vestibule, again, per fire marshal.

    A master key, exterior door lock key, and if used, key fob are given to the fire marshal to gain entry into the building.

    I have installed these at 60″ AFF, and in one case, 48″ which the fire marshal requested, in case they had a first responder whom was physically challenged. Don’t ask, I didn’t, but we did meet the ADA code.

    To answer your question about addition entry’s into say stairwells, most first responders have a “Door bar” and are not afraid to use it.

  16. Glenn Younger says:
    I can’t seem to find the Supra MAX /Kidde fire and police department box. But this link shows the unit.
    All state that have adopted the ICC Natl Fire Code have the authority to require something like this.

    On a seperate but related note; Under thte ICC Electrical Code – Utilitiy Companies have the authority to require specific key cylinders or access control equipment that they specify, on Meter rooms, electrical tranformer rooms, and electrical switching rooms, etc. We have some Utilities that are aggressive about this, and others who would never think of it. l74r

  17. Max says:

    As someone else mentioned, I typically lean on language such as “readily accessible” or “directly accessible” as requiring the possibility of entry without force (i.e. must provide keyed access if you want the door secured). Unfortunately, this language is scattered; for instance: NFPA 20 requires fire pump rooms to be directly accessible from the outside or through an enclosed passageway from an enclosed stairway or exterior exit. If compliance with this is achieved with an exterior door, that door obviously needs to be capable of being opened from the exterior (even if there is, say, an interior access door from a corridor).

    Another poster had mentioned stairwell doors. Exterior stair discharge doors (in IBC, at least) are generally not required to be capable of being unlocked from the exterior and more often than not (in my experience) are not provided with keyed access.

  18. Rich says:

    In our school district we have runners on call who attend every after-hours emergency. They carry keys to all of our buildings.
    If the Fire Department beats them there they can always use the “Fireman’s Master Key” (Axe)
    There was a problem locally several years ago when the high security lock distributor who supplied the standardized Fire Department lock box keys
    was B&E’d All they took was FD keys and that necessitated a city wide panic to have all the building owners remove the keys from the boxes.

Leave a Reply