Program is ‘Unlocking Help’ for Fluvannans having medical emergency

Contributed by Mike Feazel

A Lake Monticello group has created an affordable and effective way to assure that rescue personnel can quickly help injured or sick people who are locked in their homes at the Lake and in Fluvanna County. And there’s already interest in expanding the program to surrounding counties – and beyond.

The “Unlocking Help” program being organized by the Lake’s Doers Group and the Lake Monticello Rescue Squad has two parts: (1) Residents are being encouraged to use a lockbox or other method to securely give rescue personnel access to their homes in an emergency. (2) The Doers are providing information sheets that residents can fill out and attach to their refrigerators that will give medics vital health and contact information to assure they get the right help.

 “Nearly one third of all seniors live alone,” said Chris Zullo of the Doers Group. “If they, or others who just happen to be alone at a critical time, become incapacitated in their locked homes, there may be no one to let ambulance personnel in, and ambulance personnel aren’t allowed to break down their doors to help them. That can mean 10, 15 or more extra minutes before EMTs can get in to help them. Having a key that’s only available to emergency personnel is an effective way to solve that problem.”

The plan is for county residents to decide on a way to give rescue personnel access to their locked homes – via lockboxes similar to what realtors use, or garage or front door key code, or even just a hidden key – and give that information to emergency dispatchers at the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatchers will only give that information to first responders on an emergency call to a registered house.

“And when they get to the patient, EMTs need all the critical information about that patient in order to give them the best care,” said Peggy Shanklin, another member of the Doers Group. “The ‘Unlocking Help’ program assures they have that information by providing a form that residents fill out and attach to their refrigerator door that has all the info the EMTs need.”

“These are simple things, but they can be a lifesaver,” said Rescue Squad Lt. Jeff Spinello. “If we have to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the fire department to break down a door it can be a big problem in an emergency situation. And knowing a person’s pre-existing conditions and medications can be critical in a medical emergency.”

Lockboxes which hold a door key can be purchased for $10-$30 from local hardware stores or online. The Fluvanna Emergency Communications Center will register the code to open the lockboxes and provide it only to emergency personnel. Codes can be registered at or 434-589-8211.

Packets containing the medical information forms to be hung on refrigerators, plus additional health and emergency information, are being distributed free at the Fluvanna County Library, Jefferson Pharmacy and Fork Union Pharmacy. The information sheets ask such things as age, hearing or vision difficulties, medical conditions and medications, whether there are pets in the home, allergies, doctors’ names and emergency contact information. Residents can provide as much or little information as they want.

 “We don’t want to give meds that might react with things they’re already on,” Spinello said of the Rescue Squad.  “If everyone had their prescriptions and other information on their refrigerator it would save a lot of time. And every minute counts in an emergency.”

“Unlocking Help is still in its infancy,” Zullo said. “First, we need to get the word out and get people to pick up the packets and register their lock information. We’ll worry about funding later, including maybe helping those who really can’t afford a lockbox.”

The “Unlocking Help” program is for all of Fluvanna County, not just Lake Monticello, the organizers said. The group is working with other organizations, such as Meals on Wheels, to get the information out and packets and lockboxes distributed, they said.

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