Taking Action

Richmond Fire responding to hundreds of elevator rescue calls: ‘It’s a public safety concern’

Taking Action

Getting stuck on an elevator probably isn’t something you worry about frequently, but 8News has found that elevator rescues happen more often than you may think in the City of Richmond.

During the first nine months of 2019, Richmond Fire has responded to more than 130 calls for someone stuck in an elevator. Over the past two years, firefighters have been rushed to a trapped rider nearly 500 times.

8News has uncovered that some of those on-the-fritz and broken down elevators are repeat offenders.

Since July 2017, there have been 23 calls for someone stuck in the elevator at VCU’s Johnson Hall. Freshman Samantha Griffin said it’s a common problem there.

“It’s kind of normal actually just to see fire trucks and people getting stuck in the building,” she said. “Basically for the whole month of September, at least once a week, I could recall that somebody got stuck in the elevator.”

The state and VCU — not the city — are required to inspect and maintain those particular elevators. But when someone gets stuck, it’s often taxing city services as the university’s repairmen are often far away.

“The closest person they have is 3 to 4 hours ago,” a dispatcher can be heard relaying during a recent call for service.

8News found other hot spots for faulty elevators, including the Hilton and Miller & Rhoads Apartments on Broad Street (nine calls for service apiece), McGuire VA Medical Center (8) and the Stuart Court Apartments (8) on Monument Avenue.

A tenant who lives on the 9th floor of Stuart Court Apartments said the elevator has been a constant problem and makes her nervous.

“It shakes a lot and sometimes when the elevator arrives, the elevator will be above ground or below and you have to hop up,” Seyla Hossaini said.

Firefighters told 8News when they respond to calls, they often find the inspection certificates aren’t up to date. One 8News found inside the garage of the SunTrust building says it hasn’t been inspected since 2015.

Firefighters don’t have oversight over elevator inspections — that falls under the city’s Permits and Inspections Department. Still, Richmond’s fire chief recently admitted to council members during a public safety meeting that the department doesn’t share outdated inspection information with anyone.

“When you get called out, is there some kind of report that goes out?” Councilwoman Kim Gray asked Richmond Fire Chief Melvin D. Carter.

“We do not consistently, I guess, forward that information in terms of inspections,” the chief replied.

8News shared our findings from this investigation with councilwoman Gray.

“It presents a real public safety concern,” she said.

Richmond Fire declined 8News’ request for an interview. But city leaders said after we started asking questions, the fire chief is now directing firefighters to report rescue incidents to the city’s inspections department.

As for the problem at VCU’s Johnson Hall, we’re told VCU is renovating the elevators. The work is expected to be completed by February and a reduction in those elevator-rescue calls is expected.

Mike Porter, a spokesperson for the university, released the following statement:

“Most of the emergency elevator calls are related to riders jumping in the elevator (about 41%), which can trigger an alarm. About 32% are related to infrastructure, which will be reduced with modernization/renovation. The remaining 27% are due to general maintenance alarms (sensors, locks, switches).

Currently, there are four elevators in Johnson Hall. Two of them have been completely renovated and a third is in progress. The last elevator will be complete by the end of February. We expect a reduction in emergency calls related to elevators in Johnson Hall as a result of the renovations.”

Mike Porter, VCU spokesperson



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