Of the three elevator incidents that occurred on three consecutive January days at The Beacon high-rise in Harbor Point, Charlie Novicki’s was the only one that didn’t require a Stamford Fire Department rescue.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t alarming.
Novicki said his incident began when he got in the elevator on the sixth floor, where he lives, and pushed the button for the first floor. Almost immediately, things went wrong.
“The elevator got caught between the sixth floor and the fifth floor. It was bouncing; it felt like it was dangling,” Novicki said. “The digital display was lighting up: five, six, five, six, five, six.”
Then it got more concerning, he said.
“The control panel just wiped clean,” Novicki said. “I was pressing buttons but the elevator wouldn’t stick to a floor. I was scared it would fall.”
Then “something reengaged,” he said. “I pressed ‘four’ because it was the next lowest floor, and it started responding.”
The elevator had come back into service that day after it had been out for two months, Novicki said. He went to the lobby to tell the doorman to shut it down because it had broken again.
“The doorman picked up the phone to call somebody, but later I saw they didn’t shut the elevator off,” Novicki said. “It kept running.”
That was Jan. 18.
On Jan. 19 a neighbor told him someone that day got stuck in the same elevator, Novicki said. A Stamford Fire Department call log shows that firefighters responded to a call for an elevator rescue at The Beacon on that day.
On Jan. 20 two of Novicki’s friends visited him at The Beacon, a 22-story building with water views.
When the friends, Jack Greenhouse and Ashley Beyer, left Novicki’s apartment, they walked down the hall to the elevator.
“We got in. We were on six and we pushed the button to go down,” Greenhouse said. “After a second, the elevator jolted and stopped, and we got stuck between six and five.”
They pushed the emergency call button, he said.
“Someone came on and said, ‘Are you OK? Where are you located?’ But the call was cutting out,” Greenhouse said.
Cell phone calls didn’t work, either.
“We ended up texting Charlie and he called 911,” Beyer said. “We were in the elevator 15 or 20 minutes and the fire department came.”
Novicki watched the firefighters work.
“They shut off the power and pried open the door, then they pulled my friends up onto the sixth floor. They were stuck between five and six,” Novicki said.
He was relieved – and peeved.
“After each of these incidents, they just returned the elevator to service,” Novicki said. “The fire chief told me there’s not much he can do but leave a note with management about the incident. He said it’s up to us as residents to hold management accountable.”
It’s the way Connecticut’s elevator inspection system works.
According to state law, only incidents that result in injury or death, or present a danger to life or property, must be reported to the Bureau of Elevators, part of the state Department of Administration Services, said Jesse Imse, senior advisor to the DAS commissioner.
It’s up to building owners or managers to report incidents, Imse said. There is no penalty if they don’t report, he said, but if the incident involves a danger, injury or death, “our team will contact the owner and/or elevator maintenance company to determine if further investigation or inspection is needed.”
DAS tracks only the serious incidents, not complaints, but the reports are not readily available, Imse said.
“We respond to entrapments and other incidents if we are aware of repeated issues,” he said.
State inspectors have been responding to reports of incidents in Stamford, Imse said.
Incidents are being reported as the city goes vertical. In the last 15 years, several thousand apartments have been built in high-rises, mostly downtown and in the South End’s Harbor Point redevelopment, with more to come.
“We built a city full of elevators,” said Paul Anderson, president of the Stamford Professional Fire Fighters Association. “Many of them are new and shouldn’t fail.”
The Beacon at Harbor Point opened in 2015 with 240 apartments. The developer, Building & Land Technology, advertises it as “Stamford’s premier luxury high-rise apartment building; offering a charming boutique coastal vibe paired with picturesque views of Long Island Sound and Manhattan.”
Rents range from $2,500 a month for a studio to $13,500 for a penthouse. Most tenants pay $3,000 to $4,000 monthly.
“I think when people think about Harbor Point, they know the buildings are relatively new and they don’t expect the elevators to have these problems,” Greenhouse said. “If there’s an issue where people are regularly getting trapped, the building manager should fix it.”
“The firefighters told us they get calls all the time but all they can do is turn the power off,” Beyer said. “They said it’s a constant issue. The firefighters are probably pretty tired of it.”
Stamford Fire Department guidelines limit firefighters to cutting off power to the stalled elevator before they rescue passengers, then contacting the elevator service to restore power and make repairs.
Most people never get trapped in an elevator. Novicki and Greenhouse said that, until this month, it had never happened to them. But Beyer was trapped briefly once – when she lived at Escape, another BLT high-rise in Harbor Point.
“The elevator went up then dropped down and the lights were flickering,” she said. “I pressed the call button but then it started working again. It was scary because I was by myself.”
In July a resident of Allure, another Harbor Point high-rise built by BLT, was reportedly hurt when the elevator he was riding fell from the seventh floor to the fourth floor. Tab Batts suffered back, neck and head injuries. DAS had no report of the incident.
Through a spokesperson, Ted Ferrarone, co-president of BLT, said the company is aware of the issue with the elevator at The Beacon and has “been in communication with residents and are actively working on a resolution.”
BLT “prioritizes the safety of our residents, and we maintain consistent repair and maintenance checks,” Ferrarone said.
According to Stamford Fire Department records, firefighters responded to 14 reports of persons stuck in an elevator at The Beacon between Jan. 25, 2021 and Jan. 25, 2023. The reports include three calls from The Beacon this month, two in December and two in November.
Fire department records show a total of 389 reports of persons stuck in elevators citywide during those two years – an average of more than one call every other day. Forty-nine of the calls came from buildings in Harbor Point.
The total number of calls included five reporting persons who were injured or experiencing medical problems while trapped in an elevator.
Anderson said his concern is that building managers sometimes call on the maintenance staff to free people.
“The fire department takes a multitude of safety steps,” Anderson said. “Janitors don’t do that. People can get killed.”
On Jan. 25, Novicki – after he said he did not hear back from management of The Beacon – emailed state officials at CT.Elevators@ct.gov and DAS.OSBI@ct.gov to report the elevator problems.
“Out of concern for the safety of myself and my neighbors, I wanted to share this with you as building management has not been accountable or communicative regarding the matter,” Novicki wrote.
The following day he received a response from an unnamed person at CT.Elevators@ct.gov: “We will look into this.”