NORTH YARMOUTH — Concern over being able to get into the home of a terminally ill resident in an emergency led Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson to think inside the box.

“There was some concern about us coming and knocking down the door, trying to get in,” he said in an interview Sept. 13, noting that a few other residents asked about giving the department a house key in case of a crisis.

A better solution has developed in recent years, the chief said: the residential Knox-Box, a vault-like metal container hung over the entry door, can be unlocked by emergency personnel to access the house key. The system is geared toward people who live alone or have a history of health issues.

Thanks to an AARP Community Challenge grant, North Yarmouth now has 25 such devices to loan to those in need.

AARP reported receiving nearly 1,200 applications from across the country. The organization awarded 89 grants valued at nearly $780,000 in all.

Prior to applying for the funding in July, Payson had met with members of the town’s Living Well Committee – which caters to the needs of community members of all ages – and AARP Maine Age-Friendly Consultant Patricia Oh.

When Oh mentioned the grants her organization offers, and Payson brought up the emergency access issue, it was kismet.

Oh thought “this is the perfect thing for this grant,” he said. “They’d never had a request like that (in) the country, so they’d like to see the (Knox-Box) program grow more and more from town to town.”

“Patricia Oh has been extremely effective in mobilizing the state of Maine,” Living Well member Donna Palmer added during the interview. “We’re head and shoulders above other states in what we’re doing for our older population.”

Payson had four days to apply for the grant. He later got the news that AARP would not only provide North Yarmouth $3,480 to purchase 20 Knox-Boxes, but would also throw in another five for free.

“I’m excited about it,” Payson said. “It’s a project I’ve thought about for the last three years … I think it’s a great benefit for the town.”

The department’s trucks hold a key retention system, which an emergency responder would access through his or her own special code to get the Knox-Box key. The system tracks when a Knox-Box was opened, and by whom.

To be loaned a device, applicants must be a North Yarmouth resident and have a short- or long-term physical or medical condition that disables them from opening a locked entry door in an emergency situation. They can obtain an application, or learn how to buy a box of their own, by calling Payson’s office at 829-3025.

Payson said he already has a few residents in mind who could use the box, and he will approach them about the program.

The boxes – which will be displayed at the department’s open house Monday, Oct. 9 – must be returned to the fire-rescue department once no longer needed.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

North Yarmouth’s application for a Knox-Box grant was born out of a meeting Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson, left, and Living Well committee member Donna Palmer had with a representative from AARP Maine. The Knox-Box hangs over the front door of a residence and contains a key that can be accessed by an emergency responder.

The Knox-Box serves as a vault for the homeowner’s key, accessible only by emergency personnel.

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