Elevator Shaft Construction

Q: We have a hospital that was built in 2008. We believe there is an elevator construction issue. When they built the elevator shafts they put smoke detectors inside at the top but no sprinklers. On the three exterior sides of the shaft (non-door side) they have cinder block wall. On the interior wall (door side) they have some cinder block construction but they also have in sporadic places two pieces of plywood with glue creating a 2-hour fire rated wall. The other issue is in between the glue there are holes or air pockets. Is this acceptable to use plywood to create a 2-hour fire rated wall or does it have to be cinder block top to bottom? Our construction type is Type II (222) and the elevator shaft serves 8 stories.

A: No… it is not acceptable to use plywood as part of the construction of a 2-hour fire-rated wall. First of all, Type II buildings are not permitted to have combustible construction on their structural members. NFPA 220-2012, section 4.3.1 says Type I and Type II construction must be those types in which the fire walls, structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are of approved noncombustible or limited combustible materials. Plywood is combustible, even if it is fire-retardant. So, the plywood has to go, and must be replaced with non-combustible materials in order to complete the 2-hour fire rated elevator shaft. NFPA 13 does not require sprinklers in a non-combustible elevator shaft that does not use hydraulic fluids. Assuming it is a traction elevator (i.e. cables and pulleys), then the elevator shaft is not required to be sprinklered. But to answer your question, the plywood is a problem and should not be there.

Elevator Recall Test

Q: How do I perform the elevator recall test?

A: If you have never performed an elevator recall test, I suggest you have your elevator maintenance company show you how it is done the first time, then you can continue to do it on a monthly test. But, in lieu of that, here is how a monthly elevator recall test is performed:

  1. Take a copy of the elevator recall key, insert it in the corridor keyed switch on the level best used by the responding fire department, and turn it to the “Test” position. This key should be available from the elevator service company.
  2. This will recall all the elevators in that bank to the floor that you are on. The elevator will ‘recall’ to that floor and open the doors. The controls inside the elevator will not respond and the elevator car will sit there waiting for someone to take control. The elevators will be “out of service” during this test, so plan on doing this test when it will least impact your operations.
  3. Remove the key from the recall corridor switch (leave the switch still in the “Test” position) and enter one of the elevator cars. Take the key and insert it in the keyed switched labeled “Fire Fighter Service”, and turn it to the “Test” position (It should say “Test”, but if not, turn the switch anyway). Now you have manual control on the elevator buttons inside the car.
  4. Push a button to another floor, holding it until the doors closed. The elevator will travel to that floor, but the doors will not open. If you push the “Door Open” button, then the doors will open, and stay that way until another floor button is pressed.
  5. While in the elevator car, test the function of the emergency telephone in the car.
  6. Return the elevator car to the recall floor, and test any other cars in that bank. Remove the key and go back to the corridor switch and return the switch to the normal setting.

That is a monthly recall test, which must be done each month to all elevators. You may find that the fire alarm system will become alerted during this test and before the elevators return to normal service you may have to reset the fire alarm system.

But check with your sate and local AHJs before conducting this test for the first time… There are some states that will only allow certified elevator technicians to perform this test.

Elevator Lobbies

Q: There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this topic; primarily when and where elevator lobbies are required.  The consensus of the architects and fire protection engineers I’ve talked to is that the section 7.2.13 of the 2012 Life Safety Code pertains to elevators used as a means of egress in the event of a fire (e.g. high-rise).  However, not all AHJs see it this way and some have made hospitals construct one-hour barriers to create elevator lobbies on all floors.  We have seen this in relatively old and new buildings of various heights.  Do you agree with this interpretation of the Life Safety Code that elevator lobbies are required?

A: No, I do not. In healthcare occupancies, elevators are not permitted to be a means of egress according to section 19.2.2 of the 2012 Life Safety Code. Section 19.2.2 lists all of the approved means of egress components and elevators did not make the list. Under 19.2.2, the following means of egress components are approved for healthcare occupancies:

  • Doors
  • Stairs
  • Smokeproof enclosures
  • Horizontal exits
  • Ramps
  • Exit passageways
  • Fire escape ladders
  • Alternating thread devices
  • Areas of refuge

Section 7.2.13 does not apply to healthcare occupancies because the occupancy chapter has prohibited elevators to be considered a means of egress. Even though section 7.2.13.1 states: “An elevator complying with the requirements of 9.4 and 7.2.13 shall be used as a second means of egress from towers, as defined in 3.3.280…” it is trumped by the healthcare occupancy chapter. Whenever there is a conflict between a core chapter (1 through 11) and an occupancy chapter (12 through 42) the occupancy chapter prevails. Besides, 7.2.13.1 refers to 3.3.280 to define a tower which is a structure like an FAA control tower; not a high-rise building.

To be sure, section 7.2.13 does not apply to healthcare occupancies, and the healthcare occupancies are not required to comply with the requirements in 7.2.13 because the elevators are not a required means of egress. However, you can have elevators but since they are not considered a means of egress, they do not have to comply with 7.2.13. It is interesting to note that the Annex section of the LSC does recommend the use of elevators as an alternate means of egress. You just can’t place an ‘Exit’ sign over the entrance to an elevator and count it as a required means of egress.

I suggest you check with your state or local authorities to see if they have other regulations concerning elevators.

Monthly Elevator Recall Test

Elevator RecallOne of the requirements that CMS and Joint Commission surveyors is requesting from hospitals and nursing homes is documentation that the elevators have been tested  for ‘Recall’. Elevator recall is a test that the Life Safety Code requires to be accomplished on a monthly basis. Section 9.4.6 of the 2000 edition of the LSC says all elevators equipped with Fire Fighter Service shall be subject to a monthly operation. Now, the phrase ‘elevator recall’ is a bit of a misnomer, as the monthly test requires activating all of the Fire Fighter Service functions, not just the recall portion.

LSC sections 18/19.5.3 requires compliance with section 9.4, which in turn requires all existing elevators that travel a distance of 25 feet or more above or below the level that bests serves the needs of the emergency personnel, to comply with the Fire Fighter Service Requirements found in ASME/ANSI A17.3 Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators. This code references other ASME/ANSI publications which describes the specific requirements for the installation of Fire Fighter Service for the elevators. Furthermore, LSC section 9.4.6 requires the Fire Fighter Service in each elevator to be tested once a month with a written record of the test and findings maintained on the premises. The elevator recall portion is commonly referred to as “Phase 1” and the in-car manual control system for fire-fighters is commonly referred to as “Phase 2”. Both phases, if equipped, must be tested for each car. Please check with your local and state authorities on the qualifications to conduct this test, as some AHJs only permit trained or certified individuals to conduct this test.

If you have never performed this Fire Fighter Service test, then I suggest you have your elevator maintenance company show you how it is done the first time, then you can continue to do it on a  monthly test. But, in lieu of that, here is how a monthly elevator recall test is performed:

  1. Take a copy of the elevator recall key, insert it in the corridor keyed switch on the level best used by the responding fire department, and turn it to the “Test” position. This key should be available from the elevator service company.
  2. This will recall all the elevators in that bank of elevators to the floor that you are on. The elevator will ‘recall’ to that floor and open the doors. The controls inside the elevator will not respond and the elevator car will sit there waiting for a fire fight to take control. The elevators will be “out of service” during this test, so plan on doing this test when it will least impact your operations.
  3. Remove the key from the recall corridor switch (leave it still in the “Test” position) and enter one of the elevator cars. Take the key and insert it in the keyed switched labeled “Fire Fighter Service”, and turn it to the “Test” position (I think it will say “Test”, but if not, turn the switch anyway). Now you have manual control on the elevator buttons inside the car.
  4. Push a button to another floor, holding it until the doors closed. The elevator will travel to that floor, but the doors will not open. If you push the “Door Open” button, then the doors will open, and stay that way until another floor button is pressed.
  5. While in the elevator car, test the function of the emergency telephone in the car.
  6. Return the elevator car to the recall floor, and test any other cars in that bank. Remove the key and go back to the corridor switch and return the switch to the normal setting.

That is a monthly ‘Elevator Recall’ test, which must be done each month to all elevators. You may find that the fire alarm system will become alerted during this test and before the elevators return to normal service you may have to reset the fire alarm system.

 

Elevator Recall

Q: We are putting in fire recall on our elevators.  Now the elevator people are telling us that due to the age of some of our elevators they can only do a primary and no secondary floor for recall.  The way I read the code is we are required to have both a primary and secondary floor.  The elevator people say they can upgrade the older elevators to do this if we require.  So I need to confirm with you that we are required to have both a primary and secondary floor for elevator recall.  Thanks

A: Section 19.5.3 of the 2000 edition of the LSC requires compliance with section 9.4 which in turn requires compliance with ASME A17.3 Safety Code for Existing Elevators. This standard in turn requires compliance with section 2.27 of ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, which requires a primary designated floor and an alternative designated floor for automatic recall. I know this is a lot of referencing different codes and standards, but overall I would have to agree that Fire Fighter’s Service Phase 1 (aka automatic recall) requires the elevator car to automatically recall to the primary designated floor and the alternative designated floor. I know this may be a major expense to retrofit these elevators for recall, but it is a worth-while project for overall safety. There is nothing wrong with staging these upgrades to one group of elevators per year, or so. Joint Commission typically does not have a problem with this.

Use of Elevators During a Fire

Q: We have all seen the signs “In case of fire, do not use elevators.” This to me suggests when the fire alarm sounds no one is to use the elevator. Can you tell me where to find the specific code stating that elevators are not to be used when the fire alarm sounds and there is a presumption of fire?

A: In the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code (LSC), elevators are never permitted to be used as a component in a required means of egress, and for obvious reasons, as they can be disabled in a fire situation. Section 9.4.1 also says elevators are permitted to be used as a component in an accessible means of egress. That means even though elevators are not allowed to be used as a required means of egress, such as a stairwell is allowed, you can still use them in an emergency. The Annex section of the LSC (the Annex section is explanatory information and is not part of the enforceable code) says “The use of elevators for emergency evacuation purposes where operated by trained emergency service personnel (for example, building personnel, fire personnel) should be utilized in the building evacuation program.” With the requirement for all existing elevators that travel more than 25 feet from the level best used by the responding fire department to have Fire Fighter’s service recall, an elevator that is not involved with the fire can certainly be used by trained individuals as long as the recall function has not been activated. [NOTE: The AHJs do not have to accept the explanatory information in the Annex section, so it would be wise to confirm this practice with your local AHJs. My experience with The Joint Commission is they will permit it, or at least they will defer to your local elevator AHJ.] So, to directly answer your question, there is no reference in the LSC that restricts the use of elevators when the fire alarm sounds. I did look through the ASME/ANSI A-17.3 and A-17.1 codes for new and existing elevators (these are mandatory references by the LSC) and did not see anything written that prohibits the use of elevators during a fire alarm. As to the sign in the elevator lobby that you alluded to informing people to not use the elevator in a fire, I am told it is a requirement of local building codes, even though these same codes do allow elevators to be used as a secondary means of egress. . I suggest you ask your local AHJ who has authority over your elevators if they know of any code that requires that sign. Obviously, it does make sense to not use the elevators in occupancies other than healthcare and tall buildings (or even deep underground facilities) where evacuation in stairwells may be arduous and difficult. There are fire investigation reports from the NFPA on fires where individuals have perished in elevators after the elevator has been disabled between floors. In the situation that I am referring to, elevator recall had not been installed on those elevators and they became involved with the fire and the people were trapped. That is why Fire Fighter’s Service (Phase 1 recall) is so important, and required on existing elevators.

Elevator Recall Testing

Q: Do we need to test our elevator recall system once a month? I don’t see where this is required in the Life Safety Code (LSC). We test our elevator recall system once a year when we conduct testing of the smoke detectors, but an inspector told us we need to test the elevator recall once a month. What are we required to do?

A: Yes, you are required to test your elevator recall and the entire Fire-Fighter’s Service once a month. For existing occupancies, LSC section 19.5.3 requires compliance with section 9.4, which requires all existing elevators that travel a distance of 25 feet or more above or below the level that bests serves the needs of the emergency personnel, to comply with the Fire-Fighter’s Service Requirements found in ASME/ANSI A17.3 Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators. This code references other ASME/ANSI publications which describes the specific requirements for the installation of Fire-Fighter’s Service for the elevators. Furthermore, LSC section 9.4.6 requires the Fire-Fighter’s Service in each elevator to be tested once a month with a written record of the test and findings maintained on the premises. The elevator recall portion is commonly referred to as “Phase 1” and the in-car manual control system for fire-fighters is commonly referred to as “Phase 2”. Both phases, if equipped, must be tested for each car. Please check with your local and state authorities on the qualifications to conduct this test, as some AHJs only permit trained or certified individuals to conduct this test.

Use of Elevators During Fire Alarms

Q: We have in our fire policy that someone is to be posted at the elevator during a fire alarm to make sure no one uses the elevator. I believe this is only necessary if the elevator is located in the smoke compartment that is identified for the origin of the fire. Even then, the smoke detector outside the elevator should keep the doors from opening on that floor. What’s your take on this?

A. All existing elevators having a travel distance of 25 feet or more above or below the level that best serves the needs of the responding fire department are required to comply with NFPA 101-2000 Life Safety Code (LSC) section 9.4.3.2. This in turn requires the elevator to comply with Elevator Recall as described in ANSI A17.3 Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators. I say all that to explain that your elevators should comply with recall, which will seize control of the elevator car and deliver it to a pre-designated floor whenever the lobby smoke detector or machine room detector is activated on any floor for that elevator shaft. That elevator car will not be available for use by your staff until it is reset. If your elevators have this recall properly installed, then I agree with your statement that the elevator shaft doors should not open on the floor where there is a presence of smoke.

Annex section A.9.4.1 of the LSC explains that elevators can be used as an accessible means of egress; however they just cannot serve as the required means of egress. Therefore, it is permissible by the LSC to allow use of elevators that are not directly involved in the fire situation. Quite honestly, if you have to evacuate bed-ridden patients vertically from a floor that is involved with a fire, you will want to utilize the elevators that are not involved with the fire rather than the stairs. A person who is designated to go to each patient floor elevator lobby and attempt to hold the elevator for the possibility of evacuation is certainly a viable plan. But, it may not be necessary to do so, as the elevator could be called, and some elevators even have “Emergency” call buttons to over-ride other calls.

It certainly is your call whether or not to continue with this policy to have someone posted at the elevator during an alarm. If the elevator is involved with the fire on that or any other floor, then it will be out-of-service (Phase I Recall). If the elevator is not involved with the fire, then it is perfectly fine to use the elevator. If it were me: I would vote to discontinue this policy, as you will be evaluated as to how well you comply with your own policies. I suggest you take it to your Safety Committee and let them discuss and vote on it.