NEWS

Editorial: Fix elevator inspection law

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

IN 2002, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law designed to ensure the safety of all elevators in the state.

But a recent State Journal-Register examination showed that the new law may have had the opposite effect, creating a system in which three inspectors are responsible for 22,000 elevators throughout the state — including 700 in Springfield. And, as it turns out, the state agency responsible for keeping track of the inspections hasn’t been doing so.

This is a dangerous situation that must be resolved by the General Assembly.

Until this year, Springfield had opted out of the 2002 law that ceded enforcement of elevator inspections to the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office. More than 130 counties and municipalities in the state have done the same. Springfield contracted with independent contractors to conduct inspections and recouped costs through inspection fees. But faced with raising inspection fees to meet the new standards imposed by the new state regulations, Springfield chose to follow state law.

That means that building owners are now responsible for conducting inspections and the fire marshal’s office is responsible for making sure the inspections are completed.

When State Journal-Register reporter Bruce Rushton contacted the fire marshal’s office to see safety records on Springfield elevators, however, the office said it had no inspection records, only paperwork showing the location and ownership of elevators.

By checking at random with a few high-profile buildings — the Sangamon County Building and the Prairie Capital Convention Center among them — Rushton learned that the state system had allowed some elevators to go uninspected. When the city stopped being the enforcer of inspections, some building managers simply didn’t know it had become their responsibility.

“Since the process changed with the state and we had a change in staff, we kind of lost track of that,” said Sangamon County administrator Ryan McCrady, who ordered inspections for the county building elevators in August after learning they were overdue.

Then there is the case of Inge Lundh, a disabled resident of Near North Village in Springfield. On July 8, she and her personal assistant were in an elevator when it began running erratically, eventually plunging to an abrupt stop. Lundh spent five days in the hospital and two weeks in a nursing home because of her injuries.

It was three weeks before the building’s manager filed a report with state fire marshal’s office, which then said it was too late to determine the cause of the accident. A fire marshal spokeswoman told Rushton it was up to building owners, not the state, to determine the cause.

This does not seem like a system set up with the safety of elevator users in mind.

The very fact that three inspectors are supposed to verify the safety of 22,000 elevators in a state the size of Illinois should raise red flags about the practicality of the 2002 state law.

Oh, and did we mention the political angle? The chairman of the state Elevator Safety Review Board, Frank Christensen, was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich at about the same time his union gave Blagojevich a $10,000 contribution in 2003. The contribution was mentioned on the “Rezko Donation Chart” prosecutors displayed at the federal trial of former Blagojevich adviser Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Elevator safety should be among the simplest of public safety issues. Until the state stepped in six years ago, it was. The state needs to resolve this problem before we see another case like Inge Lundh’s.

State Journal-Register