Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Elevator Malfunctions

By Angela Hilsman

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A month and a half ago, this reporter witnessed an entrapment of strange proportions.  A nameless resident at the University of Massachusetts Amherst screamed for help from inside an elevator within the Sylvan living area. 

Although I had to race to class, I firstly rounded up help- a residential assistant sitting on a bench in the McNamara lobby, right across from the incident.  The RA, Alexis Harewood, apparently could not hear the victim over the conversation she was holding on her cell phone.  I ran over to her upon hearing the yells to inform her of the occurrence.  Harewood put down Friday’s edition of the Collegian, told the person on the phone to hold on, and walked nervously to the suddenly quiet elevator.  “Go on, say something,” I encouraged her.  “Hello?” she exclaimed, and a second helping of cries from within the elevator returned her call.    

Harewood called emergency maintenance upon hearing the screams.  From there, the maintainer for the building was contacted to assess the situation.  In this case, Harewood reveals that the elevator just opened up on its own.  She says the victim was “only in there for 3 or 4 minutes” from the time Harewood had found her.  “She was a bit panicky,” says Harewood, recalling the girl’s reaction, “but once she was out of the elevator, she was fine.”  After that, Harewood witnessed the elevator being shut down.  “Out of order” signs were placed around the elevator, and a maintainer checked for damages afterward.   

This whole incident sounds a bit crazy, but according to some students here at UMass, this isn’t the first time residents have gotten stuck.  Nicole Jackson, UMass student, reports being stuck inside an elevator in the North Apartments two months ago on a Friday night with 10 other people.  Jackson said the elevator froze somewhere between the third and fourth floor.  Everyone stayed calm and the group pressed the help button, but their aide was not as helpful as Jackson would have liked.

“It was more frustrating than anything,” says Jackson as she explains that the elevator company with which they spoke made a joke out of the situation.  Jackson says the dispatcher told them they had to “fly someone over from Germany” and that help would arrive “within three days.”  “I definitely wanted to make a complaint,” said Jackson, “it was so unprofessional.” 

She goes on to say that the group was stuck for 2 ½ hours.  “They just assumed we were drunk.  You know it was a Friday night, figured everyone was fooling around, so they took their time.  It’s annoying because that just wasn’t the case,” says Jackson.  The fire department responded almost immediately to assess the situation, and although the trapped people talked to the dispatcher four times, the company never sent anyone to help them.  Eventually, reports Jackson, the fire department just pried the doors open and hoisted the 11 people up out of the elevator.        

 Brian Clark, a sophomore at UMass, had gotten stuck in an elevator at Orchard Hill with a bunch of friends in September of last year.  Clark reports that being stuck “wasn’t fun until we realized we were only between floors one and two.”  Upon learning that, Clark says he didn’t see any danger as the elevator wouldn’t fall far if it let loose.  The group of five stayed in the elevator for an hour and 45 minutes “before help could actually get us out.”  The five were able to pry open the elevator doors, and learned that they were still stuck in the shaft because they couldn’t open the doors that opened up to a floor.

It “turned into a party,” says Clark.  They could communicate with people on the second floor, who slid trinkets through the doors to the hostages.  There were several attempts by the students to get the elevator working again.  Someone actually slipped the crew a knife to try and crank the elevator’s gears back into working condition. Shoelace and paperclips were also handy inside the elevator.  Although the crew had many creative ideas about fixing something they knew nothing about, they had no luck with actually repairing the elevator. 

When help finally came, they opened the second set of doors, and the five Webster residents climbed out.  The rescue crew reported that the problem was electrical, so playing with the gears would not have done anything useful.  Recounting the story, Clark seemed very relaxed.  “It’s going to happen,” he says, “there’s really only so much you can do.”

Although some students, such as Clark, have a relaxed attitude toward the situation, Jackson insists on action.  When referring to the number of elevator-malfunction incidents, she says “it happens so much, there should be a general guideline” to get people out quickly and safely. 

Head maintainer of the Sylvan residential area, Anthony Nepal, says there is a rescue procedure.  He says the person trapped inside is to press the help button.  This relates to either maintenance office on campus in Berkshire or Johnson.  That base contacts the elevator mechanics.  If the occurrence is during the day, a maintainer is sent over to assess the situation, locating exactly where the elevator is stuck, and to make sure everything and everyone is all right until help comes. 

Nepal says that usually, the doors don’t open by themselves, as was the case on September 18th.  He also goes on to say there isn’t much danger in being stuck unless someone is claustrophobic or has an illness without access to their medications.  Nepal also reports that elevators generally don’t malfunction, and when they do, “no one’s trapped inside.”  Nepal says he’s only made one rescue; another maintainer was trapped over the summer.  “Sometimes [the elevator] is stuck between floors,” says Nepal, explaining that this can be more dangerous when trying to bring the elevator to a floor in which help is possible.  The other option, if this happens, is just carefully hoisting the prisoners out of the elevator.  Nepal continues to say “since I’ve been here, they don’t get trapped for long- mostly five minutes.”

University spokesman Patrick J. Callahan has few comments, but insists “all elevators must be inspected on a regular basis by state safety officials.”  They are also maintained and fixed accordingly.  If the elevator is “not working properly, it gets shut down.  If [it’s] not inspected, [it] can’t be used,” says Callahan.

Nepal states that the elevator in McNamara that got stuck a month and a half ago is brand new, so he has no idea as to what caused its malfunction.

Nicole Jackson continues with her frustration over her situation two months ago in North A.  “We all had to go to the bathroom, so that wasn’t fun,” she jokes.  Taking a more serious note, she goes on to tell that rescue didn’t do much to make sure the group of 11 was okay.  “They asked ‘is everything okay?’ via help button.  That was it, at the beginning,” she says.  When the group got out of the elevator, Jackson says no one asked about their health and no one took their names.  “You’d expect them to say more,” she says, pointing out the fact that there were three fire trucks and two cruisers.    

“Eleven people confined in a space for two and a half hours,” she says, “that can be dangerous.” Annoyed by the rescue procedure, Jackson says “no matter what, it’s just uncomfortable.” 

From the experience, she offers advice to those who might find themselves in a similar situation.  “Don’t panic,” says Jackson, “someone will be there.  It’s just a matter of how long.”  Referring to a specific friend’s experience of being stuck, she adds that sometimes elevators stall because people jump in them.  “Don’t jump,” she adds, “it guarantees you’ll get stuck.”  Also, “there are lots of people in the elevator with you.  Designate one person to talk to the dispatcher,” Jackson says, explaining that it will cut down on the chaos and open better communication with rescue. 

When Jackson and her friends had called the emergency help line, they were informed that rescue team was already responding to another call on campus.

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