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 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.

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