- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services rescue workers carried a woman suffering chest pains down 35 stories from the top of the Washington Monument yesterday after a mechanical malfunction with the elevator stranded tourists on the upper two floors.
Gwen Ritter, 57, of Wichita, Kan., and her husband were visiting the observation deck of the 555-foot-tall monument about 10 a.m. when the elevator stalled.
Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman, said park rangers were uncertain how long the delays would last, so they closed the monument and began escorting the group of tourists to the base.
"The visitors were asked simply to walk down the stairs accompanied by park rangers," Mr. Line said.
As the group neared the 400-foot mark, Mrs. Ritter complained that she was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. She has a history of heart problems and has undergone bypass surgery.
Rangers called the fire department about 11:10 a.m.
Rescue workers responded and quickly assessed their limited options.
"It's not like an office building where one elevator doesn't work and you get another one," said Lt. Jeff Wright of Truck 3. "The bottom line was, we had to walk up there and tend to her and carry her downstairs. You just hope it's not a CPR in progress."
About 15 rescue workers equipped with defibrillators, cardiac drugs and IV-therapy equipment began a paced climb to the top of the monument. Medics reached Mrs. Ritter about 12 minutes later and determined she was stable enough to move.
They loaded her on to a "stair chair," an ergonomically designed transport device more navigable than a stretcher, for the trip down the 40 flights.
Lt. Sean Egan of Engine 16 said the woman was "in good spirits" and worked well with her rescuers. Still, he said, the trip down through the monument's narrow stairwells that snake around the elevator shaft took a little longer than the trip up.
"We kept rotating the crews to try to keep everybody fresh," Lt. Egan said. "Every so often, we'd stop to readjust her and check her vitals. We were cautious because of her past medical history."
After a 20-minute descent the equivalent of 35 stories, rescue workers were 40 feet from the base when repair crews got the elevator moving again. The rescue members were thankful for the relief.
"When we got to the bottom, I told her to move over on the cot and make room because I was done," Lt. Egan said.
Lt. Wright said the rescue was "unusual" in a city where buildings are rarely higher than 12 stories, but it was nothing the crew couldn't handle.
"You just needed sheer manpower," he said. "and we had plenty of that."
Mr. Line described the elevator breakdown as a "rare incident" and said the monument reopened at about 12:15 p.m.
Mrs. Ritter was transported by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital, where she was in good condition last night.


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