BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – The Bexar County fire marshal’s office began routine inspections of siren-operated sensors in 2015 after a Defenders investigation revealed problems with how the equipment was being used or not used.
Siren-operated sensor (SOS) systems force a closed gate to open at the sound of a siren.
In 2013, Christopher Clingan died after first responders could not get past the locked gate at his apartment complex in north Bexar County.
According to 911 recordings, Clingan told dispatchers, “I’ve been stabbed, like, eight times. I’m bleeding to death.”
First responders could be heard saying, “I need a gate code. We already have people there. We’re just needing the gate code to get in.”
“That’s going to be the holdup?” a first responder asked.
“Yeah,” was the reply.
Clingan’s complex did not have an SOS system.
In March 2010, Bexar County began requiring gated properties in unincorporated parts of the county to have SOS systems.
In 2014, the Defenders found that not all gated properties within those areas were equipped with SOS systems, and the Bexar County fire marshal’s office was not routinely inspecting the SOS systems that were in place.
“We had had in years past some issues with the SOS system that you guys are familiar with,” Bexar County Fire Marshal Chris Lopez said. “There were concerns -- concerns from our constituents, concerns from our customers, concerns from our electeds.”
Lopez took over as county fire marshal in February 2015 and said he made the SOS inspections a priority. Those inspections include making sure that all gated properties in unincorporated Bexar County areas have SOS systems.
“If they don’t work, you can’t get your emergency services in there,” Lopez said. “You’re not going to get your law enforcement, your EMS, your fire.”
Some gates can be opened using a Knox key.
According to information posted on Bexar County’s website, “While all of the county fire departments are participants in the county-required Knox system, several departments have previously utilized their own Knox system, and others only utilized the county system. This has caused conflicts with which key to use by emergency responders, and this increases the response time to an emergency.”
The city of San Antonio does not require gated properties within city limits to have SOS systems and does not do inspections of any SOS systems that property owners may voluntarily install. San Antonio firefighters often rely on the Knox key to open gates.
Lopez adds that while SOS systems are inspected annually on each gate in unincorporated parts of Bexar County, inspectors usually test the systems more often as they drive by them.
The Bexar County fire marshal’s office does not post SOS inspection reports online, but Lopez said residents can submit a request for an inspection report online here.