SACRAMENTO - Thousands of businesses and homes could be in danger of break-ins and thefts because of keys that are missing from Sacramento City Fire Department stations.
"These types of keys allow you access to buildings and areas that we want to secure," said City Auditor Jorge Oseguerra, who looked into the issue of missing keys.
Oseguerra performed an audit of the fire department's key security and record-keeping after a whistleblower told his office there was no oversight and the keys were vulnerable to theft.
The keys go to boxes on buildings and the outside gates of gated communities. Inside the boxes are more keys which open doors and gates. They are there so that firefighters can access properties during fires and other emergencies without smashing windows and knocking down doors.
In October, the auditor wrote a letter to Interim Fire Chief Dan Haverty telling him, among other things, that there are " ... minimal controls in place to limit theft, loss or duplication." Many of the keys had nothing on them telling locksmiths not to copy the keys.
Oseguerra's audit found several keys missing, including one that was stolen from a firefighter's SUV. The fire department would later admit five of the high-security-risk keys are unaccounted for.
Three months after the auditor wrote the letter to the fire department, News10 investigated whether security of the keys had improved. The investigative team members were able to enter one of the stations mentioned in the audit and find a set of keys without being detected. They went to another station and found keys lying on the floor of an unlocked fire tender.
News10 then showed the auditor what it found. Oseguerra simply said, "I trust the fire department will find a solution to this quickly."
City Fire Marshal Michael Bartley told News10, "It was only recently when your team came in and made entry into a station that we realized, hey, we have another layer of security that we have to implement."
Haverty, who inherited the problem of the missing keys, immediately responded to the problem.
He sent out a directive to all firefighters telling them they are to keep the keys on them and not store them openly in trucks. He also ordered the purchase of dozens of safes for the keys, which he said will be installed in fire trucks as soon as they arrive.
"We're confident that we have adequate key security," said Bartley.
Bartley and Haverty also said there is no evidence any of the missing keys have been used in any crimes.
At the Sacramento city council meeting Tuesday evening, Oseguerra presented his findings to city leaders. Council members did not make any recommendations regarding the safety of the keys.
Haverty said after the city council meeting the departmenthas already secured the keys on 13 city ambulances and will be performing work next on the fire trucks.
"They will be bolted onto the fire engines next week," Haverty said.
By Thom Jensen, TJensen@news10.net
Contributing: Damany Lewis