Squirrel causes power outage, 2 people trapped on elevator

By Sarah Willets

July 22, 2014

LUMBERTON — Two people in Lumberton had to face some of the our most dreaded fears at once on Tuesday — darkness and claustrophobia.

The two became trapped in separate elevators when a power outage struck Tuesday morning, shutting off lights from Southeastern Regional Medical Center to the downtown area.

According to Linda Oxendine, director of Public Services for the city, the outage was caused by a squirrel.

About 2,000 customers around Carthage Road, East Lumberton and the Tanglewood area were left in the dark when the animal caused a breaker switch on Bullard Street to malfunction. Oxendine said power was restored in about 45 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime, Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services literally held the keys to the trapped residents’ extraction.

According to Robert Ivey, commander of the rescue squad, it has about eight to 12 keys from elevator manufacturers that match different lifts around town.

“There’s a whole bunch of different keys for elevators,” Ivey said. “We’ve had elevator training so we knew which one to use.” During training, emergency responders learned how to operate Lumberton’s elevators and how to cut off their power.

When a 911 call came in from the Robeson County Courthouse at about 9 a.m., four emergency responders grabbed the keys and headed out.

“About once a month, we’ll get a call something like that, but normally when we get a call the maintenance person will have let them out,” Ivey said.

At the courthouse, a man was trapped in one of the building’s elevators between the third and fourth floors. Emergency responders opened the door to the elevator shaft and determined there was about five feet from the elevator car and the fourth floor door.

“Once we got the door open, we just reached down and pulled him out,” Ivey said.

About 10 minutes later, another call came in from a building across the street, law office of Hubert Rogers, where a young woman was trapped between the first and second floors. Because of the location of the elevator car, a rescue squad member jumped in and pushed her out. The ordeal was over in about 20 minutes, after the woman’s vitals were checked by a medic team.

Ivey has advice for anyone trapped in an elevator.

“They need to stay calm and call 911,” he said.