Saskatoon fire crew kept waiting at condo gates as blaze raged

Saskatoon's fire chief says property owners have responsibility to keep department updated on entrance codes.

Chief urges property owners to keep emergency codes updated

Getting to the scene is only one of the challenges facing fire fighters. ((Dan Zakreski/CBC))

The head of the Heritage Estates condo board says it was a terrifying 90 seconds.

The fire department had trucks at the scene of last Friday's early morning blaze within four minutes. But when they arrived at the entrance to the gated community on the city's east side they couldn't get in.

A mix-up in addresses because of multiple 911 calls meant that the entrance codes they were given by their dispatcher didn't match up with the codes needed for the gates's keypad.

 "One to three minutes, if it was a medical emergency, that can be the difference between life and death," said condo board president Dennis Peters.

Fire chief Dan Paulsen says getting timely, accurate information is critical in emergencies where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

And he says the current system works. In rare situations where a panicked caller gives the incorrect address, or the codes are outdated, fire crews have proven adept at working around the problem.

"It will slow down entrance, but it won't stop entrance."

Paulsen says there are more than 500 apartment buildings and commercial properties in Saskatoon that have some sort of locked gate or restricted access. Property owners supply the codes to get into these buldings and gated communities to emergency services, and they're kept in a database.

Dispatchers will relay this information to fire crews and emergency personnel while they're racing to the scene. Paulsen says it's in everyone's best interest to keep the information updated.

"It allows us to have access and also prevents an awful lot of damage that be done in us trying to gain entry."

The city reviews the information in the database annually. But he says it's the responsibility of property owners to bring the new information forward should codes change in the interim.