Are decades-old Buffalo elevators safe?

Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 04, 2016

Thanks to the re-development boom in the City of Buffalo, many old elevators are seeing increased use. But are they safe?

"Old does not mean it is bad," said Randy Pawlik, owner of Bison Elevator, which services elevators in both new construction as well as buildings that are quite old.

"We have elevators that date back to the early 19th century," said Pawlik.

Old elevators have challenges when it comes to repairs because some of the manufacturers are out of business and parts have to be custom made.

That is the case in the Tri-Main Center on Main Street in Buffalo where the primary passenger elevator broke and has been out of service for the past few weeks.

"Using old elevators presents additional problems in making sure they are working everyday," said Tri-Main president Matt Wolfe.

"We ordered all new controls and we are in the process of updating and modernizing that elevator as we speak," said Pawlik, who expects the work to be completed before the end of February.

Wolfe explained that as developers look to re-use old buildings, deciding between keeping the old elevators, or installing a new one, can be a complicated business decision. "In the scheme of it, it is a big part of the cost to modernize an elevator and meeting today's codes and standards," explained Wolfe.

Tri-Main is not alone. In Buffalo, there are 2,500 elevators and many date back decades.

"They are old. No doubt about it but they are in generally good repair and safe," said Pawlik.

Besides being dangerous work, servicing elevators has become very complicated, said Pawlik, because repairmen have to know how to deal with 100-year-old motors and modern computer systems at the same time.

"You have to get your hands dirty. That's how you figure some of this stuff out," added Pawlik.

Having properly trained and licensed elevator workers is now the focus of a push by NYS Senator Marc Panepinto (D-60th Senate District) who joined with members of the Elevator Constructors union (IUEC Local 14) to call on the State Republican Majority to pass the Elevator Safety Act (S.1945).

"We should be leading in safety and not lagging behind thirty-four other states," said Senator Panepinto.

Co-sponsored by Panepinto, the legislation would mandate training, safety requirements and licensing for all elevator workers. The legislation has passed in the Assembly four times previously only to stall in the NYS Senate.