Paramedics and firefighters now can open most of Beaufort County's security gates at the touch of a button, which can save precious time as they rush to the scene of an emergency.
The access systems, which cost $1,200 to $1,500 each, were mandated by local governments after paramedics responding to a heart attack victim were delayed at an unmanned security gate in 2009. At that time, first responders had to punch in access codes or get out of their vehicles to use universal keys to open the gates.
Beaufort County Council voted in October 2009 to require radio-controlled gate openers within a year. All 79 electronic security gates in the county's unincorporated areas now are in compliance, according to Beaufort County fire code official Tim Ogden.
Nearly all use a system called Click2Enter, with universal keys as a backup. A few gates were simply disabled by their owners and are now left open.
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The county only has authority over unincorporated areas, but Ogden said the goal is to reduce EMS response times countywide.
"We're going to continue to work with all of the municipalities," he said.
The town of Bluffton approved a similar ordinance with a one-year timeline in January 2010.
The deadline for system installation was Wednesday. Frank Hodge, the town's assistant director of growth management, said Bluffton has about 30 unmanned security gates. He said town staff is working through the end of this week to inspect them and check compliance.
Capt. John Robinson, training officer at the Beaufort Fire Department, said there are six gated communities within the city of Beaufort and the town of Port Royal. Three of them are equipped with Click2Enter.
The other three use the universal key system. The department is working to upgrade these gates, but there isn't a deadline for compliance.
"The gated communities that do not have Click2Enter have been cooperating very well with us, so there's no reason for us to impose a deadline," Robinson said.
Most of the gated communities on Hilton Head Island already were using the Click2Enter system before last year, Ogden said.
The incident driving the changes occurred in April 2009. James Smith, a 65-year-old man living in the Baynard Park community in greater Bluffton, suffered a heart attack. Beaufort County EMS responded to his wife's 911 call. Paramedics had an access code in a book in the ambulance, but could not open the unmanned gate. They were held up for two to three minutes, according to a report provided by the county. Smith was taken to Hilton Head Hospital, where he died 11 days later.
Smith's widow filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit in December 2009, seeking unspecified damages from six defendants. Beaufort County EMS and Bluffton Township Fire District are both listed in the suit, as are the Baynard Park developer, property owners association and two property management companies that have operated in the community. Her attorney, Barry L. Johnson, declined to comment because the case is pending.