Ridgefield Housing Authority: Broken elevator has firefighters standing by

The elevator in the four-story, 34-unit congregate housing building on Prospect Ridge hasn’t been working, and firefighters were stationed there four hours a day over the weekend to assist residents who need help getting up and down the stairs.

“We have no higher priority right now than getting the elevator going,” Housing Authority Chairman Frank Coyle said Monday, Oct. 21. “We take it very seriously and we understand the negative impact it has on our residents. It’s not acceptable, and we’ll get it fixed.

“And once we get it fixed,” he added, “we’ll make sure it never happens again.”

Tuesday evening, Coyle confirmed in an email that the elevator wasn’t fixed. “Lots of activity, with no reopen date,” he said.

The elevator shut down Thursday, Oct. 17, after a week of on-and-off difficulties.

“It became inoperable on Thursday,” Coyle said. “There had been some issues the days before that, but it really didn’t become as serious a problem unit Thursday. The week before there’d been some problems, and I’m calling out the service guys and stuff. But it became a real issue on Thursday — not that we were ignoring it by any means...

“There’d been intermittent problems,” Coyle said, “...but people were using it.”

“We have not provided a date or time for the elevator to be working,” Coyle said. “...We have our regular elevator maintenance company that’s been doing this for years: They think they know what the problem is. But in order to be cautious we’re bringing in another elevator company to take a look,” Coyle said.

“We’re using multiple companies to try to get the solution identified and in place as quickly as possible. There’s been some talk about one of the parts, the control panel, being obsolete and not in manufacturing. Phil (Sfarga), the property manager, went to the manufacturer in California and found they do have the part. We’re having that shipped overnight.”

Firefighters helping

Fire Chief Jerry Myers said firefighters were assisting residents who need help getting up and down the stairs.

“We’ve been up there a couple of times a day, pretty much every day,” Chief Myers said.

A team of firefighters were at the housing complex Saturday, Sunday and Monday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Tuesday that no longer seemed necessary.

“We do not have firefighters stationed there any more. We had them there Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but we don’t have them there any more,” he said. “Things are steadying out. The Housing Authority has put some procedures in place to reduce the need for people to go out.”

But the elevator hadn’t been fixed.

“To the best of my knowledgte, the elevator is still out of service,” Myers said late Tuesday afternoon.

An “elevator service alert” sent to residents by the Housing Authority on Friday, Oct. 11, suggested that people who have difficulty could reach out to the fire department for help.

“Since Tuesday, Oct. 8, the buildings has been experiencing intermittent elevator service interruptions,” the notice said. “We have been working with the elevator service company to return the elevator to full operation...

“If the elevator is not in service and you need to leave the buildings or return to your apartment, the Ridgefield Fire Department is trained to assist residents up and down the stairs. Please call the Ridgefield Fire Department at (203) 431-2714, do not call 911 for non-emergency assistance. The Fire Department is happy to help our residents.”

Firefighters helping people with issues like this isn’t something that’s limited to residents of town’s senior citizen housing, Chief Myers said.

“This is something we’ll do townwide,” Myers said. “If we have a resident who can get themselves to or from a doctor’s office, but they just need help getting in or out of the house, and we have a unit available that can go over and help them get in or out of the house,” Chief Myers said.

“Over the weekend, we actually put somebody over there for the busiest time of day, four hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.”

Myers said the firefighters have a special chairs that a crew of two can use to get residents up and down the stairs.

“Coming down is easy with two, we have technology for that,” Myers said.

“They sit in the chair we extend out the treads and the chair actually rides on the ridges of the stairs as they stick out,” Myers said.

Firefighters can control the speed of the chair going down by changing its angle, he said.

“That works going down because the person’s weight is the driving factor,” he said. “You can’t do that going up the stairs, because gravity works against you, so they physically have to be lifted a stair at a time.”

Myers said the inoperative elevator isn’t an issue for the fire marshal’s office.

“It’s not a fire code violation, so we don’t have enforcement jurisdiction or anything like that,” Myers said.

“The building has a certificate of occupancy, so the fact the elevator is in or out of service doesn’t come under our code — it’s buildling code, not a fire code.”

As for assisting the residents up and down the stairs, it’s not exactly firefighting, but it is the kind of thing the department has a long history of doing.

“That’s what we do in the Fire Department: When people have a problem, they call us and we go out and do our best to make it better,” Myers said. “That’s our culture here and it’s been passed down in generations in our department. Even if it’s not a fire, if somebody has a problem we’re going to go out and take a look...

“Everybody recognizes it’s what we do,” Myers said, “and it’s kind of what makes Ridgefield the community it is.”

Selectmen involved

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he got involved last week.

“Last week, on Thursday, I believe, Chief Meyers contacted me and said the elevator was out of order and a letter had been sent to all the residents, to contact the fire department if they needed any help,” Marconi said. “...Which they were more than willing to do, but he wanted people to realize that could not be a priority given the emergency situations they respond to first.”

Marconi said he understood the Housing Authority had contacted Danbury Ambulance service about providing assistance to residents, and discussed with Chief Myers having off-duty firefighters take that on.

“During that conversation, Chief Jerry Myers agreed to go forward there to try to hire people to cover — call people in,” Marconi said.

“I then spoke with Selectman Bob Hebert, who as you know once served as chair of Ridgefield Housing Authority, to recruit his involvement,” Marconi said. “Mr. Hebert, at the end of the day, called me back to say that the Ridgefield Fire Department would be placing two firemen with an ambulance at the facility, at the congregate housing, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, to provide assistance to those either going downstairs or upstairs.

“Mr. Hebert followed up with a second call to let me know that the part necessary to repair the elevator, which is the reason the elevator was down, had been located in California and that hopefully the situation could be corrected at the beginning of this week.”

Down for lunch

Coyle, the Housing Authority chairman, said the elevator problems have been difficult for some of the congregate housing’s more than 34 residents — especially those who live on upper floors and have difficulty with the stairs.

Residents get a lunch every day — either down in the dining hall or taken up to their rooms, he said.

“We have a lot of elderly and some disabled residents — so, yes, there are some on the upper floors,” he said.

“Not all of them are unable to use the stairs,” he added. “We clearly know the people who have the most difficulty, and check up with them, and make sure they have food and meals that we don’t provide, and that kind of stuff...

“People, most of them, do come down for lunch every day,” Coyle said.

“If there are problems with the elevator and they can’t come down, we’ve had volunteers taking their food to them. That’s a standard program, even when the elevator was working.”

The Housing Authority, he added, includes a resident of the congregate building as a voting member.

“We have five commissioners — one of them is a resident of the third floor,” Colye said.

Employees available

The Housing Authority has a manager, an assistant manager, a cleaning person, a maintenance person, and a residential services coordinator, Coyle explained, and while they oversee Ballard Green as well as the congregate complex and other housing on Prospect Ridge, among the five at least one staff member “is almost always there” at the congregate housing complex.

“The cleaning lady is almost always there. The maintenance guy is almost always there. And we have the manager and assistant manager who each try to spend time their each day,” Coyle said.

The administrative offices are at Ballard Green, down off Gilbert Street behind the park on Main Street.

“The manager and assistant manager are usually at Ballard Green, but frequently they’re at congregate —we try to have a presence at both places. The other three people can go wherever they’re needed,” Coyle said.

The Ridgefield Housing Authority’s Prospect Ridge Congregate Housing— where the elevator problem occurred — has 34 units, and offers residents 24-hour supervision, housekeeping services and one meal a day.

The Housing Authority also oversees 63 senior citizen apartments at Ballard Green behind Ballard Park at the corner of Main Street and Gilbert Street, one family unit off Gilbert Street by Ballard Green, and 20 units of subsidized family housing at The Meadows, near the congregate housing off Prospect Ridge Road.