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Elevator Invention Could Have Saved Suzanne Hart's Life, Expert Says

By Mary Johnson | February 29, 2012 7:36am
A memorial plaque for Suzanne Hart has been put up in the lobby of 285 Madison Avenue, the building where she was killed in an elevator accident on Dec. 19, 2011.
A memorial plaque for Suzanne Hart has been put up in the lobby of 285 Madison Avenue, the building where she was killed in an elevator accident on Dec. 19, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — As a city report blames worker oversight for the death of Suzanne Hart, one New York-based elevator expert claims he has a solution that could save lives.

Patrick Carrajat, 68, who has been working in the elevator business for more than five decades, has partnered with an Israeli company called Rolls Elevator to bring to New York a patented device designed to stop accidents like the one that killed the ad executive, 41, inside 285 Madison Avenue in December last year.

The creation is called the FSSG, which stands for fail safe service guard.

The city-led investigation into Hart's death found that mechanics working on the elevator failed to remove a device that disengaged a safety mechanism and allowed the elevator to move even when its doors were open.

That device, called a “jumper,” is commonly used in the course of elevator maintenance, Carrajat explained. But it must be removed before the elevator is put back in service.

If it’s not and someone is in the middle of the elevator doorway when the unit takes off, Carrajat added, "it’s usually a death sentence."

The city said the jumper was not removed before the elevator car Hart used was put back in service.

Mechanics who'd just finished working on it also failed to contact the city’s Buildings Department after their work was complete — as is required by law — so that an inspection could take place before the elevator was opened to the public, the city found.

The DOB has since suspended the license of Transel, the company that serviced elevators in 285 Madison, preventing the company from performing any upgrades, new installations or inspections. The department is now seeking a full revocation of that license.

The accident was ultimately the result of human error in a machine that Carrajat called one of the safest means of conveyance in the world. But the device that Rolls Elevator invented, he added, would have prevented it.

“It detects the presence of this,” said Carrajat, picking up a jumper, which resembles a cable less than a foot in length.

If it senses a jumper is attached, it stops the elevator from moving, he said.

“Until this [jumper] is removed, [the elevator] will not be put back into passenger service,” he added. “[The FSSG] will stop the accidents cold."

Yoram Madar, the owner of Rolls Elevator, said the FSSG device costs around $1,500, and it is installed in the shaft of the elevator, not in its control system, which means that technicians cannot override it.

“I believe this device is a true life-saver,” Madar added. “The benefit compared to the risk is tremendous.”

Brian Black, the code and safety consultant for trade association the National Elevator Industry Inc., said he was not aware of the FSSG device. But he said new elevator systems have preventive features that eliminate the need for jumpers in making repairs.

Older elevator systems are not required to be retrofitted to adhere to that new standard, but as those systems age, they are being updated, Black noted.

“[Elevators] are safer than cars and planes and everything else,” Black said, noting that elevators throughout the United States log some 18 billion passenger trips every year.

But, he added, “accidents happen.”

Carrajat, who runs the Elevator Historical Society in Long Island City, said that it is unlikely building codes will be amended to require the installment of the FSSG device. But next month, he plans to host a gathering at his museum with Madar and a group of elevator consultants to encourage its use.

In addition, Carrajat said he would like to see an FSSG installed at 285 Madison Avenue. He said he has spoken with P.S. Marcato, the company that has taken over servicing the building’s elevators from Transel, but no plans have been finalized with the city’s Buildings Department.

If the concept is approved, Carrajat said he would like to film the installation to show others how the FSSG is put in place and how it works, he said.

In his decades of servicing elevators in New York, Carrajat said he once experienced the fear associated with a forgotten jumper.

Years ago, he was working on an elevator in a residential building late at night. When he finished, he had a habit of removing his jumper and clipping it to the right side of his belt. But when he got home that night, the jumper was not where it should have been.

Carrajat said he drove all the way back to the building at 1 a.m. to retrieve the jumper, only to realize that it had fallen off his belt inside his car. Still, he said he was glad he came back to make sure.

“I wouldn’t let that [elevator] run one more minute than it had to,” Carrajat said.