'We Were Just Following Orders'

June 1, 2004
An official of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) tried to use a variation of the Nuremberg defense to explain to me why he wouldnt allow

An official of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) tried to use a variation of the Nuremberg defense to explain to me why he wouldn’t allow the installation of a vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) in a major home improvement retailer facility. He was just following the building code’s directives, he said. That’s when my baloney detector kicked in. In fact, it detected something smellier than old baloney, but this is a family magazine. Suffice it to say, it smelled like the return of the elevator gang.

If you’ve read the Red Tag Report series by former MHM editor Bernie Knill, you know I’m referring to elevator authorities who have tried to regulate VRCs out of business. In some states, regulation included using red tags to shut down VRCs. The motive? A VRC is cheaper than a freight elevator, and many elevator officials have a financial interest in the more expensive alternative.

This gang has been fairly inactive in recent years, thanks to the potent defense argued by this magazine and key VRC manufacturers like Pflow Industries. It has been established that VRCs fall under the scope of ASME/ANSI Code B20.1, and that they’re designed to carry things, not people. Elevators are covered by The American Elevator Code, ASME A17.1, and are passenger-friendly. Unfortunately, members of the elevator gang continue to try siphoning dollars out of the conveyor market.

Case in point: New York City, where that major home improvement retailer sought to install a VRC. Long before, the New York Red Tag Gang decided that if you can’t beat the rules, rewrite them. They modified B20.1 for NYC, putting in load limits for VRCs under a new rule in RS (Reference Standard) 18-5. Rule 6.21.6 states that the capacity shall be a maximum of 2,500 pounds.

This little rule was the legacy of a corrupt regime that was tossed out of New York City in the late ’90s. At that time, 42 of 58 NYC elevator inspectors were suspended on charges of bribery and failure to perform duties. The acting chief elevator inspector and members of the city’s Plans Examining Department were also tossed out. Unfortunately, nobody rewrote the rules that aced VRCs out of big projects.

Ted Ruehl, president of Pflow, copied me on the letter the NYC DOB sent to the contractor in charge of installing this VRC. In its refusal to grant a variance to the corrupted code, the DOB offered an alternative: “You can satisfy your customer's needs with a 4,000- pound freight elevator.”

I called the technical director who signed the letter and asked why a VRC, which can safely handle loads much heavier than 2,500 pounds, and is much less expensive than a freight elevator, couldn’t be allowed.

“It was our opinion that this equipment would be misused because it would be in a retail facility,” he explained. “We all know they would not use it to move material exclusively, and that the operator might ride it.”

By that logic, lift trucks shouldn’t be sold to retail facilities either, because people could ride on the forks with the load. How can the DOB justify keeping this silly bastardization of B.20 around?

“You’re right,” the DOB technical director relented. “We have a stupid code. It’s not easy denying this request knowing that across the river it’s acceptable.”

Want to keep this type of debacle from happening in your locale? Write to Patrick McPartland. He chairs the elevator/conveyor subcommittee charged with transitioning the elevator industry to the International Building Code in New York City. He is also a member of the ASME A17.1 national committee for existing elevators and escalators. His e-mail is [email protected]. You might also want to copy Fatma Amer, NYC Department of Buildings, at [email protected]. Tell them it’s time to follow a new set of orders.

Tom Andel, chief editor

[email protected]

Latest from Facilities Management