On Thanksgiving 2019, Mary Rice and her family were just outside Salt Lake City at her father-in-law’s home. There were gathered with three other generations of the Rice family when she heard her four-year-old son, Kaleb, cry for help.
Kaleb was screaming from the residential elevator shaft, a device that was installed to help Kaleb’s grandmother, a partial quadriplegic. The family scrambled to unlock the elevator door, finding Kaleb pinned from the chest down under the elevator car. They called 911, and then used a car jack to lift the elevator car and pull Kaleb free — but not before Kaleb stopped breathing. He was rushed to hospital, and fortunately he sustained only minor injuries. However, many children have not been so lucky.
According to The Washington Post, eight children have been killed and two more seriously injured since 1981 by residential elevators. The issue here is a design flaw that the elevator industry and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been aware of for 70 years, but they have not done enough to prevent these accident from happening.
There are an estimated 500,000 in-home elevators in the country, and Mary Rice is terrified that another child will be badly injured or even killed, so she is raising alarms about this important safety issue.
The problem stems from a five-inch gap between the doors on the elevator itself, and the door on the shaft. The door on the elevator is accordion style, while the exterior door on the shaft is a traditional swinging door. Between those two doors is often a space of five inches, a gap just wide enough for a small child to shut both doors, stand between them, and allow the elevator to still function. Changing the gap from five inches to four inches could resolve this issue.
But what about existing elevators like the one at Rice’s father-in-law’s? Well, for these older models, there is an easy fix — an adaptor that fills part of the gap. It costs around $100. But the CPSC has taken zero action to mandate that companies install this adaptor, and few elevator companies are interested in fixing the problem internally.
The thought of my child, or any child for that matter, being pinned under an elevator, makes me cringe. But then to know that companies and the government have known about the issue for seven decades, but no action is being taken, makes me want to rage-cry.
Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 reached out to one elevator company, ThyssenKrupp, which now owns Wheel-O-Vator, the company that installed the elevator in the Rice home. They gave the following non-committal statement: “ThyssenKrupp’s top priority is the safety of both its employees and the riding public, and that goal will continue to guide ThyssenKrupp Access in any future interaction with family representatives and applicable governmental authorities.”
In contrast, Otis elevators took it upon themselves to retrofit their existing elevators for safety to prevent this sort of thing from happening, so they are rock stars. However, that was two decades ago. They are the one stand-out on this issue.
Mary Rice said her immediate goal right now is to raise awareness about this issue.
“If someone had told us that you can spend a hundred dollars on a space guard to make that gap smaller so their little bodies can’t fit in there, my father-in-law would have done it in a heartbeat. People need to know that they have options to make these elevators safer,” Rice told Scary Mommy.
“If families are visiting a home that has an elevator, they need to ensure that the elevator has been retrofitted with a space guard,” Rice added. “We didn’t know what happened to Kaleb was even possible. It is vital that parents know about this potential danger and that there is a simple fix that can help keep their kids safe.”
If little kids love anything, it’s elevators. I know for a fact that my children have a really difficult time not messing around with them. If you go to a home with a residential elevator, ask the owner if they know about the safety concerns, and if the elevator has been updated with an adapter.
“The fix is simple,” said Rice. “Everyone needs to know about this so that it never happens again.”