ROUSES POINT — A family here is trying to raise awareness after the push of a button claimed the life of their cherished family pet.
On a sunny late September Saturday, Heather Gadway was heading out for groceries with her 7-year-old son, Lukas, when she realized she forgot her sunglasses on her husband’s workbench in their garage.
The garage door had been left open about 8 inches to let the freshly washed floors air dry, and Gadway hit the button on her garage-door opener.
As she and Lukas watched, the door dropped, crushing their 11-year-old dog, Brady.
“It’s like losing a human being. It’s been devastating,” Gadway said.
“He was going to be 12 in December, and he was in perfectly good health. He still had a long life to live, and it wasn’t his time to go, especially like that.”
Investigating how the tragedy had happened, Gadway said, she and her husband, Jamie, determined installers had set the sensors — that are supposed to stop the door, should something be in the way — 16 inches from the floor.
They had bought the doors from from Champlain Door Systems in Fairfax, Vt., in 2016; that company also installed them.
The Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association International website details state and federal regulations on that point: "The top of each photoelectric eye lens is to be installed no higher than six (6) inches above the garage floor.
"If installation is above six (6) inches, the photoelectric eyes may not detect what they are intended to protect, an individual lying down on the garage floor under the descending door."
So with the door open about 8 inches, below the sensors, it just rolled shut on the dog.
“And in manual, it says no higher than 6 inches, and (Champlain Door Systems) had it at 16,” Mrs. Gadway said.
“My mind was blown; I was in tears,” she recalled. “It’s their job to install them and follow their own manuals."
And the tension of the door, Mrs. Gadway said, turned out to be way too high; had it been set properly, the door would have retracted when it struck the pup.
Mr. and Mrs. Gadway tested the tension later, laying full soda cans and water bottles on their sides under the door.
Instead of stopping upon touching them, the door crushed them, she said.
Losing Brady has taken a toll on the whole family, leaving the children traumatized — though 4-year-old Haley didn't see what happened, she afterwards roamed the house looking for her pup.
As for Lukas, Mrs. Gadway said, “it's been extremely difficult for him, especially because he was there and saw (Brady) just lying there.”
"There are things you can never unsee."
The Gadways talked to school staff, and Lukas has been visiting with the counselor there.
And he has become an advocate himself for safe garage doors.
"He tells random people his dog died because of the garage door" and urges them to make sure their sensors are in the right spot.
"This is a lesson for the kids, too," Mrs. Gadway said: Never go under the garage door if it's partially open — it's a deadly device."
The day after the accident, Mrs. Gadway said, she called Champlain Door Systems; after a few days without a return call, she visited the business.
“I wasn’t going to wait days and days for answers,” Mrs. Gadway said.
Her reception there was less than helpful, she said.
Champlain Door Systems Co-General Manager Rich Gordon, who spoke with Mrs. Gadway, disputed her accusations that the installation didn't follow requirements.
The Gadways' claim that the sensors were set at 16 inches “is not the height we set them at," he told the Press-Republican.
“There’s a lot of variables in this,” he said.
Gordon said the customer has a role in “due diligence,” noting that doors’ responses should be checked annually for accuracy — the customer has the responsibility to make that happen.
“We can only be held so far,” he said. “We can’t always control what happens after we leave.”
Mrs. Gadway said garage door companies need to perform their own due diligence in letting customers know how dangerous the doors can be and what their own role should be in keeping them safe.
In 1993, she said, "a child died.
"That's why the regulation was put in place on setting the sensors at 6 inches.
“We knew nothing about state regulations, and this is something that’s extremely important,” Mrs. Gadway said.
And, she said, "apparently owners are supposed to do tests several times a year to make sure the tension is right."
She and her husband didn't realize that.
"No, I didn't read the manual, and maybe I should have," she said.
"But I didn't think I had to."
"You should always leave a full set of the manufacturer's written materials with the customer when you install any GDO," DASMA's Technical Data Sheet advises garage door companies. ... Even on a service call, ask customers if they have the owner's manual. If not, advise them to get a copy from the manufacturer."
Installers should educate the customer of the risk posed by electric doors, the association says.
The Gadways want others to be aware of the potential dangers involving garage-door sensor placement and regulations regarding their installation and maintenance.
“Sensors are installed for the safety of humans and animals,” she said. “Garage doors are such powerful devices that are they extremely dangerous.”
Gordon, in speaking to the P-R, also alleged Mrs. Gadway “admitted to moving” the sensors.
The Rouses Point woman emphatically denied doing so.
“(Gordon) asked me if I moved it, and I said, 'There are still marks from where you installed it.'
"Why would we ever move it? We didn’t know anything about the regulations, and it’s their job to install (the sensors) properly.”
But, she said, since working to resolve the matter a village code official, they have since moved the sensors to regulation height.
An inspector was present when they did it, she said.
“We did move it to the 6-inch rule after my dog died in front of my eyes,” Mrs. Gadway said.
Email Suzanne Moore:
Get a free safety brochure on electric garage doors by calling 1-800-276-3919 or going to: www.dasma.com.