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Knox Box Program

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Under the authority of International Fire Code Chapter 5, the Vancouver Fire Department and its service areas in Fire District 5 require the installation of a Knox Box or other Knox access in certain situations. The Knox Box is a small vault. This is a secure key system where only Fire Department responders have access to the key.

These are required for two reasons:

  1. To expedite emergency response operation and access.
  2. To provide for “non-destructive” investigation of reported alarms and quickly mitigate any problems found.

Not all commercial buildings are required to have a Knox box. If you are not sure, please contact us to find out.

Required Installation for Structures

When required by the Fire Marshal due to access to or within a structure or an area being unduly difficult because of secured openings, or where immediate access is necessary for life-saving or firefighting purposes, a Knox box shall be installed in an accessible location on buildings and structures when:

  • Building is equipped with a monitored fire protection system (i.e. sprinkler or fire alarm system).
  • Structure has four or more stories above grade.
  • Access to building (includes R-1 occupancies) is restricted due to security arrangements.
  • Buildings or enclosed storage yards containing hazardous materials in amounts exceeding the exemptions allowed in Section 2703 of the Fire Code.

Required Installation at Gates

When required by the Fire Marshal due to access to or within an area where the fire lane is gated to restrict general access, a Knox key switch may be required for automatic gates. A Knox padlock may be required for gates or other access restrictions that are manual in nature. 

  • A key type switch is required for opening electronic gates and should be mounted to the control pad area. Automatic gate closing systems shall be disabled when accessed by the fire department and the gate shall remain open until restored by the fire department so that other emergency response agencies have access.
  • For mechanical gates (i.e. no electronics), a Knox padlock may be interconnected with other facility padlock hasps.

For residential gated communities, an Opticom strobe switch is recognized as a preferable alternative because it allows police, ambulance and fire response.


Generally, one (1) Knox box is appropriate for a structure or complex where multiple small buildings of a single business are in close proximity.

Multiple Knox boxes (or other Knox hardware, i.e. Knox padlock) may be necessary for larger complexes that may have multiple entrances. Where factors suggest multiple key boxes are required or alternate locations are appropriate, the Fire Marshal will specify those locations.


Knox Company provides a number of Knox box styles for various applications. Door types can be lift-off (removable), hinged, vault type and even alarmed. Although not required, it is permissible to have a security alarm supervising access to the key box provided that an approved label is affixed to the box stating, “ACCESS MONITORED.”

In most situations, the 3200 series with lift-off doors and without an alarm is appropriate. If a property uses or ever intends to utilize key card access locks, a hinged door type is necessary as most key cards do not fit in boxes with a lift-off door. When multiple sets of keys are required, the 4400 series model may be necessary.

Placement and Installation

Key boxes may be either surface mounted or recessed into the exterior wall. A recessed Knox box will provide the greatest amount of protection from vandalism. Installation of lock boxes shall meet the following requirements:

  • Placement shall be determined and be approved by the Deputy Fire Marshal and shall be installed prior to issuance of the certificate of occupancy.
  • Box should be mounted on the addressed side of the building, near a main entrance door.
    • Unless the riser room door is on the address side of the building.
  • Box should be both visible and accessible.  For ease of access personnel find it preferable for lock boxes to be placed within 6 feet from ground level.

Tall Buildings

When installing a Knox box on a building 4 stories or higher, then the appropriate number of keys shall be provided for use under high rise operations. Keys shall be provided and marked as follows.

  • Blue Tag – Lobby control (complete set of keys)
  • Red Tag – Interior attack. There will be at least two (2) complete sets of keys for high rises or other large complexes. (More for RIT as required)
  • Green Tag – Elevator control (usually just elevator recall keys)
  • Brass Tag – Multi-occupancy. For example: If the master key does not work on two of the occupancies due to tenant changes, the brass tag will be placed on those additional keys along with the suite or unit number. The brass tag does not replace but is used in addition to the tags above.


When purchasing a Knox box, key-switch or lock use the web link below and enter the zip code of the installation address

Select the Department from the list:

“Vancouver Fire Dept 7110 NE 63rd St Vancouver, WA 98661” for all installations within the Vancouver Fire Department service area.

For vehicle gate switches, select the EMS switch that allows both Fire and Ambulance emergency access.