Growing up the son of Italian immigrant parents in the Taylor Street area, Robert Capuani learned a lesson that prepared him for a lifetime of success: “My father always told me, ‘No one’s going to give you anything for nothing,” and that you’ve got to work hard to set and achieve every goal.”
As director of the Elevator Safety Division for the Illinois fire marshal, you could say Capuani has taken a steady ride to the top floor of his profession. He started the state’s program in 2006 and today, “We’re responsible for 34,000 elevators in the whole state outside of Chicago,” he says. “We register every elevator in the state.”
In licensing terms, it also boils down to overseeing 1,790 mechanics, 154 inspectors, 97 contractors and 25 inspection companies. It also means executing agreements with 180 municipalities.
If it sounds like a daunting task, but Capuani, who lives in Elgin, had more than three decades experience in the field before taking on his present post. There’s another side to his work that makes it even tougher: “It’s been a challenge dealing with legislators to pass rules and make decisions, because everybody has to approve it,” he says.
While there are no shortcuts to elevator safety, Capuani (a former Army sergeant) knows clever ways to speed up elevator legalities: “You just make [lawmakers] realize that safety is the major factor.”
No one knows this truth quite like Capuani, who has leveraged his position to change things for the better. “I put into place the rules that elevators need to have annual inspections,” he says.
But what if building owners try to skirt those rules? “I added rules that a mechanic can’t work on an elevator unless it has an up-to-date inspection certificate,” he says. “That was to ensure that everyone has an inspection every year.”
While he’s proud of his role in protecting the public, Capuani is even prouder of his family. His mother, Rose, and father, Pat, came from Guercino and Ferentino respectively. He’s been married for 40 years to his wife Annette, who was born in Italy just outside Salerno.
Capuani also has a son who’s continuing in the family line of work. Bobby Jr. has risen through the ranks of the International Union of Elevator Constructors from mechanic to area coordinator of the educational program. (He also serves as president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans’ Young Professionals Division). His daughter Roseanne works in logistics, rounding out the American side of the family. His notion of family expanded dramatically and at the same time hit home when he traveled to Italy for the first time recently.
There he met a cousin, “and when I saw him sitting there it was like seeing my father again: his mannerisms, the way he moved his hands,” he recalls. “My wife said it was the happiest she’d seen me in a long time. It was very emotional.”
He adds: “When I saw where I came from and realized the history, it made me so proud to be Italian.”