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Fire department reduces master keys after thefts

May 02 2012

The Victoria Fire Department has slashed the number of master keys it keeps to access buildings across the city and changed its policy to make them more secure, after a series of break-ins carried out by someone with one of the keys.

The department now has only 10 master keys, down from 25, that grant access to 530 buildings across the city to prevent firefighters from smashing their way in during an emergency.

"Frankly, 25 keys is too many," said Victoria Fire Chief Jeff Lambert. "Too many opportunities for things to go awry there."

Six of the keys are held by fire inspectors and senior managers and must be with them at all times. The other four will be kept under lock and key in strategic locations throughout the department's three fire halls. Lambert did not want to specify where the keys would be locked up.

"Before, we used to rely on the fact that no one knew where they were, but - we lock them up now," he said.

The department revamped its policies after someone used a fire master key to break into several buildings, including a medical building on Fort Street on March 31.

However, it remains a mystery where the key came from. While Victoria Fire initially said one key was missing, all 25 keys were accounted for.

The key used in the break-ins was never found, which is complicating Victoria police's investigation, said spokesman Const. Mike Russell. "Until we can lock down the actual key, we can't say definitively: 'Yes, this is from the fire department, or replicated from a fire key or specially manufactured,' " he said.

Fire prevention officers re-keyed the lock boxes for hundreds of buildings so the lost key could no longer be used.

Victoria police have not revealed how many buildings were broken into using the master key, but said it is partially to blame for a 28 per cent spike in commercial break-ins between January and March.

Police still don't have enough evidence to link the prime suspect to the burglary. Investigators suspect there were other people involved and are looking at the suspect's associates, Russell said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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