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.