CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Defenders investigation is revealing a skyrocketing number of elevator rescues in the Queen City.
Fire officials said they rescued more than 400 people over the past year. At the same time, NBC Charlotte also learned many state elevator inspections are hundreds of days overdue. That includes schools, churches, and hospitals.
You’ve probably seen the inspection certificate inside the elevator, which shows when the last inspections were done. However, inspectors focus their attention on another area with all the mechanics. Our Defenders team is finding inspectors can’t keep up.
Firefighters described for NBC Charlotte how victims trapped in elevators often respond.
“You may panic, you may get claustrophobic in there,” said Tom Brewer, president of the of the Charlotte Firefighters Association.
Brewer told NBC Charlotte elevator rescues are happening all the time in the Queen City.
“The call volume has gone up,” Brewer told NBC Charlotte.
In fact, the Defenders obtained startling new numbers about elevator rescues. According to the Charlotte Firefighters Association, there were 362 victims between July 2016 and July 2017. Those numbers jumped to 457 people rescued from 2017 to 2018 during the same months.
Brewer pointed to the Queen City’s growing number of high rises.
“When you look at the explosion of apartments,” Brewer told NBC Charlotte.
It gets worse. Our investigation is also revealing major delays with state inspections for elevators in Charlotte. Public documents showed the top fifty spots waiting the longest.
Schools, churches, and hospitals are each more than 250 days overdue, according to the North Carolina Department of Labor. Number two on the list was Carmel Middle School; 274 days overdue.
“The inspectors have been shorthanded,” said Tommy Petty, deputy bureau chief for the elevators and amusement division of the North Carolina Department of Labor.
Petty admitted to NBC Charlotte inspectors are outnumbered by the booming number of high rise buildings in Charlotte. Petty said they can’t hire fast enough to keep up.
“No, sir. We are working on it.,” Petty said.
Petty said it’s become challenging to find qualified applicants after employees retire. Right now, only six inspectors cover all of Mecklenburg County.
NBC Charlotte shared data with Petty about the rising number of elevator rescues. He acknowledged that given the rising number of elevator rescues, inspections are even more important now.
“Oh yes, I don't disagree,” Petty said. “The more you look at something the better.”
“If it's putting more personnel on the ground to complete these inspections, that's what they need to do,” said Brewer.
Firefighters said in the meantime, stay calm. If something goes wrong, they’ll get to you as fast as possible.
“So we can free them and let them get back on with their lives,” said Brewer.
State officials also said elevator owners have a responsibility to get regular maintenance done on the elevators to keep them safe.