NAPLES, Italy — About once a day, an elevator breaks down on Capodichino. And some unfortunate person gets trapped in one about every six days.

It’s a common source of grumbling among people on base, especially sailors in the barracks.

But the number of incidents isn’t abnormal, and most breakdowns could be avoided if people would just be nice to their elevators, base and elevator officials say.

“These things are fairly delicate; if they’re mistreated, they can break down,” said Lt. Brian Gilligan, director of the facilities support contracts division, which inspects elevator contractors.

Abused elevators that are less than desirable in appearance don’t get much respect, said Robert Cotton, an elevator consultant and expert witness in San Francisco.

“Elevators have a personality, I think,” said Cotton, noting there is a lot of vandalism in areas with a large population of young people, such as a college campus.

The 30 elevators at Capodichino had 335 service calls from Aug. 1, 2002, to July 28, 2003. An average of one to two service calls per elevator per month is expected under normal circumstances, Gilligan and Cotton said.

Some have been out of service for a few months because of vandalism, such as people ripping out the emergency devices that trapped riders use to call for help.

“The majority of these issues, though, are just people damaging the doors to the elevator, said Gilligan, 31, from Montpelier, Vt.

“... That’s usually done by kicking the door or trying to force it when it’s opening slowly.”

He said the base is looking at ways of strengthening the sealing inside the door tracks and concealing the communications devices.

About 20 percent of the calls, about 72 a year, are for people trapped, such as Petty Officer 2nd Class Dewayne Nichols, who got stuck in a barracks elevator.

“I called my friend from my cell phone and she came over and tried to help, but that wasn’t workin’,” laughed Nichols, 20, an intelligence specialist from State College, Penn.

He pushed the emergency button and was freed by the fire department in less than five minutes. He knows of several others who have gotten stuck. And while it’s a minor gripe, he said, it’s a pain to walk up five flights of stairs at night when the elevators aren’t operating.

Cotton’s advice for those trapped in an elevator?

“Be very patient.”

And unlike in the movies, where actors escape just before an elevator plummets to the ground, Cotton said that he knows of only two incidents where a cable was severed and the safety device on the side didn’t hold the elevator: on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the 1940s when a military plane slammed into a building.

“Elevators, by far, are the safest means of transportation,” he said. “It’s safer than walking down the street.”

He said about 3 billion people ride elevators each year. There are, on average, a dozen deaths, usually caused by people climbing out of the compartment.

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