After a Stimson College elevator trapped nine students and left one hospitalized on the night of September 9, questions began to surface about the unit’s safety and maintenance procedures. Director of Campus Residences John Sparano said in an email that “the elevator is a hydraulic unit which locked on safety due to overloading. The weight capacity is approx 2000 lbs.”
While all nine girls stuck inside the elevator did not weigh a collective 2,000 lbs. according to several of the students who were trapped, there are other safety mechanisms in place that could have been tripped causing this to occur. In a separate email, Sparano detailed the specifics of how the elevator was stopped.
“The elevator monitors speed/volume of the hydraulic fluid moving through the system as the car descends. If the speed of the fluid increases beyond a set limit, the elevator thinks the cab is falling too fast and locks it as out as a safety. This is indicative of a overloaded cab,” Sparano said.
According to Jennifer Stahl, a senior marine biology major and one of the girls in the elevator, she said it was very cramped and “even squatting was difficult.” She and the other eight students were rescued after approximately 40 minutes inside the elevator. They were stuck between the penthouse and third floor and maintenance crews were eventually able to release the fluid in the elevator so they could climb out onto the third floor.
Sparano mentioned that this specific elevator cab had received new jack seals over the summer. These seals keep dirt out of the mechanisms to raise and lower the elevator as well as keep the hydraulic fluid in.
When asked to produce the inspection certificate, Sparano refused and said, “I don’t feel comfortable supplying inspection reports as some information may be used out of context.” He continued by saying the only way in which he would give The Stony Brook Press a copy of the inspection would be if a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request was filed, which could take several weeks.
Lawrence Dwork, the contracts manager of Stony Brook’s Campus Operations and Maintenance department, manages the elevators for the academic buildings on campus. While he made it clear he is not involved with the Campus Residences elevator staff, he explained the processes he takes to make sure the elevators are in proper order.
“Here for West Campus I do two visual inspections per elevator per year. I also do once a year a no-load test, which makes sure, especially with hydraulics, there are no leaks and it holds the weight capacity. Every five years we do what’s known as a full-load test, we put 125% weight on the elevator and do a complete test,” Dwork said.
Although he does his own inspections, a third-party vendor has been hired to do the official inspection for the records. For the Stimson elevator, National Inspection handled the last inspection after they were contracted in November of last year.