Rec Center Elevator Shut Down, Stranding Disabled Falmouth Man

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By: Brent Runyon
Published: 01/04/11

A man confined to a wheelchair was stranded on the second floor of the Gus Canty Community Center on East Main Street, Falmouth, yesterday morning after the elevator was shut down while he was taking a yoga class.

He was unable to leave the building for more than an hour until he was eventually carried downstairs by Falmouth Fire Rescue.

Robert L. Parker, 74, of East Harbor Drive, Teaticket, and his wife, Anne M. Parker, went to their weekly laughter yoga class on the second floor of the community center at around 9:20 AM, and took the elevator to the second floor where the class meets.

After about 40 minutes of laughter yoga, the couple was not amused to discover that someone had shut down the elevator while they were at their class, leaving them with no way to exit the building.

“I thought it was really quite ridiculous,” Ms. Parker said yesterday afternoon. “Nobody came upstairs to see if anyone needed it. I cannot believe they shut down the elevator.”

Ms. Parker said her husband, who has been a paraplegic since 1987 and served for 10 years on the Falmouth Commission on Disabilities, was calmer than she was during the incident.

The teacher of laughter yoga, B. Clare Goodwin, discovered the Parkers stranded in front of the elevator with no way to get downstairs.

“I’m still shaking a little bit. It was pretty upsetting.” Ms. Goodwin said.

Not a laughing matter

She told the staff of the community center, but was told there was nothing they could do because the elevator had been shut down by a state inspector.

Ms. Goodwin said she was upset that the Gus Canty staff seemed not to care about Mr. Parker and never came upstairs to check on him, even after they knew he was there.

“I wasn’t laughing at that point,” she said. After an hour of waiting with no results, Ms. Goodwin called Falmouth Fire Rescue, which dispatched six men to help carry Mr. Parker and his motorized wheelchair, separately, down the stairs.

Mr. Parker weighs 240 pounds. Getting him strapped in and carrying him down the stairs was a delicate procedure, because he cannot hold himself up and does not have the ability to balance himself, Ms. Parker said.

“I have my ups and downs,” Mr. Parker told his rescuers after they finally reached the main floor. That comment elicited a few chuckles, his wife said.

After they got home, Mr. Parker called Equity/Affirmative Action Coordinator George R. Spivey and reported what happened.

The reason that the elevator was shut down is unclear. Director of the Falmouth Recreation Department Helen E. Kennedy is on vacation this week. Assistant Recreation Director Joseph E. Olenick referred questions about the incident to Facilities Maintenance Director Shardell Newton.

Ms. Newton said she could not comment on the incident, “because the town is going to investigate what happened.” She did say the elevator at Gus Canty is now in working order.

A spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, which is in charge of elevator inspections, said that office was also investigating the incident.

“First and foremost, the Department of Public Safety is looking into this matter to find out exactly what happened and why,” spokesman Jennifer Mieth wrote.

“Our primary concern is the safety of anyone who might use that elevator and when an inspector shuts down an elevator they must have a safety reason for doing so.”

The Parkers said they would not return to the community center unless the class was moved to the ground floor.

Ms. Goodwin and Mr. Olenick were able to find a room on the ground floor for their class next week, which begins at 9:27 AM and is free and open to the public. The unusual time is designed to be easy to remember.

Ms. Goodwin, a psychotherapist from East Falmouth, said she started teaching laughter yoga two years ago as a community service.

“We laugh for no reason. We don’t tell jokes. We do laughter as exercise,” she said. “Laughter is a way of expelling all of the stale air in the lungs.”

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