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Firemen rescue stranded tenant in HNZ flat

NIGEL MOFFIET
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014
Rhonda Stewart and Jack Gabolinscy
Nigel Moffiet
STUCK: Rhonda Stewart and Jack Gabolinscy are grateful to Papatoetoe firefighters for coming to the rescue but they’re worried about safety issues at their Housing New Zealand apartment complex. 

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A broken-down lift left wheelchair-bound Rhonda Stewart stranded and scared on the fourth floor of her Housing New Zealand apartment block.

Thankfully, "four kind and handsome" firemen came to her rescue.

But the incident has raised fears among the Papatoetoe building's elderly and disabled residents who say they could get stuck for days.

Stewart, who has muscular dystrophy and lives in a ground-floor apartment, was marooned at the top of the building after she went up to visit a friend.

The only lift in the complex is constantly breaking down, she says.

It's the first time firefighters have had to come to Stewart's rescue but the lift has stopped many times before and it's making her feel "unsafe" after eight years of living at the property.

"If you're stuck up on one of the floors and there's a fire, you can't get down. . . people around here are in their 70s and 80s - they can't carry us down."

Resident Jack Gabolinscy says it's a great concern for others living at the address and he's frustrated with HNZ for showing a lack of urgency.

Many residents are too weak to use the stairs, he says.

"The concern is they've built the place and they've put in pensioners and disabled people but the lift is constantly breaking down.

"Once the lift is gone, and sometimes it's gone for days, they can't go for hospital visits, they can't go to doctors, they can't buy their shopping or anything . . . if they were going to make it for pensioners or disabled people they should have put two lifts in."

HNZ property services general manager Marcus Bosch says he's aware of the problem with the lift. It is caused by water damage "which could have been exacerbated by tenants using the fire hose".

"The lift has been out of service on a couple of occasions over the past two years. When this happens, signage is posted on the ground floor to inform residents.

"We take the concerns of our tenants seriously and will be talking to residents on the upper floors who rely on the lift, to ensure they understand what they need to do in an emergency. When there is a fire, lifts cannot be used in any building."

Meanwhile, Gabolinscy says he also worries about emergency procedures highlighted by a small fire at the address three weeks ago.

"There is no plan - the only plan for a fire is to get out on the balcony and come down the stairs. I don't think that's enough."

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But Bosch says he is confident with the level of safety.

"This building has a direct connection to the fire service so for this reason does not require additional evacuation trials.

"Again, as we take tenant concerns very seriously, we are looking into whether there are any additional procedures we can put in place to address these concerns and will be keeping tenants informed."

Stewart agrees more action is needed.

"They should be more co-operative because they know I'm in a wheelchair and they know if I get stuck I can't do anything."

But she admits she quite liked having four firemen come to her rescue.

"That was quite good . . . I told them how strong they were."

- Manukau Courier

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