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Senior Safety: How Do Paramedics Get Into A Locked House?


Paramedics have several options for getting into a locked house. They might use a lock box if there is one available or try to bump the lock. If the paramedics assume the person inside is in danger, they won’t hesitate to break down the door to gain entry.

It’s a worst-case scenario come to life. Your senior parent or loved one is having a medical emergency, but their door is locked and family members are an hour away.

You’ve called emergency services, yet you’re not sure how they’re going to get in either. What will the paramedics do?

Do EMTs Break Down Doors?

First, let’s define the emergency workers you might find on an ambulance crew. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are not the same.

EMTs can administer medical care, but not to the extent of a paramedic. For instance, an EMT can provide oxygen to a patient, check their glucose levels, or do CPR.

On the other hand, paramedics can give the patient life-saving medications, apply an external pacemaker, or insert an IV line. EMTs cannot.

Knowing that, can EMTs break down a door to gain access to a senior’s house or is that a job that’s reserved for the paramedics?

Both EMTs and paramedics will break down a locked door to reach an ill or injured patient if all else fails.

They have the legal authority and obligation to do so if human life is under an immediate threat.

How Can Ambulance Crews Force Entry?

As we explained in the intro, destroying the door is not a first resort during medical emergencies, though.

The main concern of a paramedic crew is to provide urgent medical help with minimal damage to the dwelling, if possible,

So, the EMT or paramedic will look for easier access to the residence. They will try to open the garage doors or check for an open window first.

This is where a medical alert lock box is invaluable. We’ll discuss them more in the next section.

The second option these emergency responders will try is known as lock bumping. This done via a bump key.

By using a bump key, also referred to as a 999 key, the ambulance service may be able to get into the house.

They insert the key, apply pressure with a screwdriver or hammer, and then the door should open.

This way, the front door doesn’t have to be destroyed, although it might be a good idea to replace the door locks after that.

EMTs and paramedics will only break down a door without trying those other options if they suspect that the person inside is in potential danger.

In some cases, like for a stroke or heart attack, the above methods of entry, while effective, would waste too much precious time.

In a true emergency scenario, ambulance drivers or fire crews would likely force their way in by using a Halligan bar.

Similar to a crowbar like you find in hardware stores, a Halligan bar (invented by a New York City firefighter) is used to pry open the door latch or to force a door frame open,

What Is A Medical Alert Lockbox (First Responder Lockbox)?

We mentioned medical alert lockboxes in the last section. These are also known as first responder lockboxes. But what exactly are they?

A medical alert lockbox is a box that you install outside of the home of your senior parent or loved one.

It is similar to a lock box that a realtor puts on the front door of a house that’s for sale.

The box contains the senior’s house key. This way, a first responder only has to open the lockbox and they can gain entry to the house without having to break down the door.

Most types of first responder lockboxes are opened by using a code.

When the senior calls in their emergency, they give the code to the emergency dispatch.

However, if the person is unconscious or panicked, they aren’t going to remember a code! So, what do you do?

You should definitely give the code to your senior’s personal emergency response system (ie: Life Alert, etc) so they can tell 9-1-1 if they report an emergency.

In addition, you can give it to the senior’s local 9-1-1 dispatch center so they have the code on record.

You probably wonder if having a medical alert lock box on the property is a safety risk.

After all, if a paramedic can open the box, then couldn’t any Average Joe on the street, including criminals and other shady characters, do the same?

Not exactly.

Many medical alert lockboxes include a code lock that only opens when you correctly input the access code.

Other lockboxes must be manually unlocked, which is not easy if you don’t have the master keys.

It’s perfectly safe to have a lock box outside of your senior parent’s home and highly recommended!

Paramedics, police officers, and fire stations deal with medical alert lockboxes all the time so they’re very familiar with how they work.

Conversely, the general public should be confounded by a lockbox.

A word of warning – just because you installed a first responder lockbox on the premises does not preclude the paramedics from breaking down the door to get into the house.

We want to reiterate that emergency responders will bust through a door if they feel like the senior is in danger.

Yet for non-emergencies, a medical alert lock box can spare your senior’s front door.

If you haven’t already sat down with your elderly parents and talked about getting them a medical alert lock box, now is as good a time as ever for the conversation.

Where Do You Install A Medical Alert Lockbox?

Deciding where the medical alert lockbox will go requires careful consideration.

You need the lock box to be clearly visible enough that the paramedics know it’s there.

Yet you also want it hidden to a degree so the lockbox’s presence doesn’t attract criminals.

What many adult caregivers do is install it on the front or side of their senior parent’s property.

Ideally, you want to get permission from your senior parent before you set up the lock box so they know it’s there too.

How Does An Ambulance Get Into A Gated Community?

What if the independent living community where your senior parent now lives is gated?

This is great for privacy and security at any other time, but once your senior needs emergency assistance, the gate is just one more obstacle slowing down their arrival to a hospital’s emergency department.

How will the ambulance pull through into the gated community if the gate is shut?

Well, the rules vary from one community to another, but almost all will open the gates automatically if they hear sirens.

That doesn’t only apply for ambulances then, but law enforcement and the local fire department as well.

If the apartment buildings owner or manager didn’t open doors for emergency personnel and lives were lost because of it, the liability would be on the property owner or manager.

Otherwise, the first responders can use a bump key, a first responder lock box, or a click-to-enter device to get through the gate.

A click-to-enter device allows a fire truck or ambulance to announce their presence via emergency radio or even through strobe lights.

Do Paramedics Lock Your House (If They Are Transporting You)?

One way or another, the paramedics got into the house of your senior parent or loved one.

We’re going to assume in this example that emergency personnel didn’t have to break down the senior’s door, but rather used a bump lock or a first responder lockbox to open it.

Since your senior lives alone in our scenario, once they’re transported to the hospital or another medical facility, the house will be unoccupied.

As of this moment, you may not even know that an emergency has transpired and probably won’t until your senior reaches the hospital and you get a phone call.

Even once you are informed, your first thought is going to be that you need to go to the hospital to see your senior parent or loved one, not that you need to drive by their house and lock up.

However, you would also hate to bring your senior home once their medical condition allows it, only to find that their house was robbed since no one had closed and locked the door.

So, do paramedics lock the house if they’re transporting a patient to a medical facility?

They will try their best, yes, but they don’t always.

If your senior’s front door has a basic lock, then the paramedic will quickly secure the door on their way out.

They might not put up the chain lock, but the door is at least locked.

What if the door is more complex than a single lock?

The paramedic might not have the time to address it.

It’s not that they don’t care about the security of a patient’s house but locking up is not part of their job description. It’s their duty to save lives.

Right now, it’s more important to get the senior to the hospital, so that’s exactly what the paramedic is going to do.

This doesn’t mean the house will sit empty and unsecured though!

Once the emergency team has transported the patient or while they’re transporting them, the paramedics will contact either the closest fire station or police departments.

One or both teams will visit the premises to secure it.

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