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We have all been to elevator incidents at

some point in our careers. Usually the

incidents are benign, and simply involve
removing a stuck occupant from an
elevator car.

Of course, elevators pose other concerns,

namely their use during fires and rescuing
victims trapped in an elevator where their
removal is an emergency. The fire academy never taught us the ‘proper’ way of dealing with these machines
and our knowledge is drawn typically through first-hand experience and knowledge passed down from other
firefighters. The trouble with elevator operations, centers around the fact that there are dozens and dozens of
elevators in the city, and they all do not work the same. So how do you prepare to handle emergencies in all of
them? This article will exam some basic elevator construction and review tactics to consider when faced with
an elevator incident in both the emergency and non-emergency scenarios.

Background Information

In the United States, elevators operate based on codes created by the American Society Of Mechanical
Engineers (ASME), the sort of NFPA of the industry. The elevators in Ohio, and of course Middleburg Heights,
operate under these codes. Older elevators are not necessarily required to be upgraded when newer codes
come out. So some updated safety regulations may not be integrated in a number of our buildings. ASME 17.1,
The Safety Code For Elevators And Escalators, is the organizations main, most relevant code, designed for new
installations. ASME 17.3 is the applicable code for existing elevators. The codes have newer versions, 2010 for
17.1 and 2011 for 17.3. What version does Ohio have ? 2004
for 17.1 and 2005 for 17.3. What does all that mean ? That
the elevators are lacking the most up to date safety

To further illustrate how many different elevators there are,

there were at one time 252 elevator companies that built,
installed, and serviced elevators. Today, there is only one
multi-national elevator company based in the United States,
and that is Otis Elevator.

Incidents involving elevators and escalators kill about 30 and seriously injure about 17,100 people each
year in the United States, according to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the
Elevator Incidents
Consumer Product Safety Commission. Injuries to people working on or near elevators – including those
installing, repairing, and maintaining elevators, and working in or near elevator shafts – account for 14-
15 (almost half) of the deaths.

Technology continues to change. Today, some new elevator systems being installed do not have a machine
room. Instead, these MRL’s (machine room less) elevators, contain all the required elements within the
hoistway and are much more energy efficient.

Types Of Elevators

Elevators types can be broken down into essentially two classes, passenger or freight, and hydraulic or
traction. In Middleburg Heights, we will almost entirely see passenger hydraulic elevators. There are a small
handful of freight elevators, most notably at Sears. Traction
elevators are elevators that are essentially run with steel cables
that are run over a drum or wheel to provide traction and
therefore control of the cars movement. A bulkhead or
penthouse is located at the top of the building in order to house
the mechanical room’s equipment.

Hydraulic elevators have hydraulic fluid that lifts a shaft that

can be in-ground (holed), holeless, or roped. The hydraulic fluid
used is combustible, and can number anywhere from 200-1000
gallons. Breakdowns in the submersible pump located inside
the tank can cause the fluid to overheat and smoke, leading to
an all too familiar alarm. Be wary of extremely cold or hot days,
A diagram of a hydraulic elevator which can affect the viscosity of the fluid.

Parts Of An Elevator

A. Definitions
1. Buffer Springs – located in the elevator pit, these are what a hydraulic elevator comes to rest on
when manually lowered to the bottom floor.
2. Car Door Clutch – Located on the car door, this device couples the car and the hoistway doors
together when the car is at floor level.
3. Door Operator – Located on top of the car, this is what controls the opening and closing of the
doors. Typically a wheel type part.
4. Door Restrictor – Typically found on the car door clutch, these mechanical or electro-
mechanical devices prevent car doors from being opened when the elevator is between floors.
Some are merely long collapsible bars mounted on the back edge of the car door.

Elevator Incidents
5. Equipment (Machine) Room – This is where the machinery necessary to move the elevator is
located. It is also where the main elevator power disconnects and the manual lowering valves
are located.
6. Fire Key Box – Located at the main egress floor. It should contain hoistway access key, elevator
equipment room key, and the fire service key. I am not aware of any in Middleburg Heights.
7. Flag (lift rod) – Located on the lift rod, this is what the hoistway access key catches to lift the
rod and unlock the hoistway doors.
8. Hoistway Access Key – This tool is used to unlock the hall doors in the event that someone is
trapped in the elevator.
9. Interlock – Part of every hoistway door. This keeps the hoistway doors locked when the
elevator is not at the floor.
10. Lift Rod – Located on the hall door. This connects the pick-up rollers to the latch keeper.
11. Main Power Disconnect – Located in the elevator equipment room, this is what de-energizes or
removes power from the elevator.
12. Manual Lowering Valve – Located on the main valve, this is what is used to lower a hydraulic
elevator in a rescue situation. AT THIS TIME, WE DO NOT ADVOCATE USE OF THIS DEVICE.
13. Oil Line – Used on a hydraulic elevator. This is what delivers oil from the reservoir tank to the
14. Pick-Up Rollers – Located on the hoistway doors. These are what the car door clutch catches on
to unlock and open the hall doors when the elevator stops at the floor.
15. Valve (Main) – Located in the equipment room. This is what regulates oil flow controlling the
speed of a hydraulic elevator. This is where the manual lowering valve is located.

A clutch style door restrictor being

squeezed to open the elevator car doors

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Car Top
Controls Safety Rail

Car Door Operator

Phase I and Phase II Operation

Phase I and Phase II are the two parts of what is generally known
as “Firefighter’s Service”. It’s these two modes of operation that
allow us to control the elevators for tactical and life safety reasons.
It is possible that an elevator in operation in our city, or cities we
respond to for mutual aid, may not have this function. Pre-planning
is the only way to be sure. The early phases of a building fire or fire
alarm should involve the fire department gaining control of the
elevators, and this is of course done using phase I and phase II

We do this for several reasons:

 To check and see if there are overcome victims in the elevator

 To secure the elevator and prevent their use by building occupants
 To make the elevators useable for fire department purposes

The idea is to have and encourage building occupants to use the safer, enclosed, protected stairwell for

Older installations, prior to 2005, will have

a ‘BYPASS’ feature. The switch placed in
this position will ignore the FAID and allow
normal operating. This should only be used
in a KNOWN false alarm.

Installations after 2005, will have a ‘RESET’

feature. This would be used by employees
to reset the fire alarm and return the
elevators to normal operation.

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Operation Of The Elevators In Phase I

Phase I operation involves the automatic return of all the affected elevators to the main floor. Typically, Phase
I would be activated by a fire alarm initiating device (FAID) in the hoistway, machine room, or just outside the
lobby on any landing. Any other activation of a FAID outside the aforementioned locations will not put the
elevators into Phase I. The elevators are designed to return to the main or designated floor (DF). If the FAID
activates on the main or designated floor lobby, the elevators would go to the designated alternate floor.
Firefighters can also activate Phase I by using the elevator operating key to gain control. This would be
necessary to gain control if the FAID did not originate in one of the previously mentioned locations that
automatically activates phase I. To place the elevators into Phase I manually, locate the firefighter’s service
wall panel (usually by the main elevator buttons) and place the elevator key into the slot, and turn the switch
to the ‘ON’ position. Where do you get the key from ? Hopefully, either from the Knox Box or from the staff.
We do not carry one.

After the elevators arrive at the main floor, their doors would open and stay open once they reached the floor.
During Phase I operation any attempt to call an elevator from any other floor would be ignored. Any elevator
in flight would stop, and return to the main floor. Finding the elevators in this position is a significant finding
for the initial search team sent to secure the elevators. It’s a clear signal that the elevators are indeed in Phase

If the elevators are not in phase I, the search and rescue team shall use the elevator key and place the
elevators into Phase I and wait for their arrival to the designated floor. After the doors open, search the
elevators for any overcome victims.

This leads us to Phase II, or what we would typically refer to as ‘Firefighter’s Operation’. Phase II is simply us
entering the elevator and placing it under our control. We would direct where the elevator goes. We tell it
where to stop. How do we do this? We do this by going inside the elevator and placing a key into the
appropriate Phase II key hole inside the elevator and turning the key. If we decide to do this, we need to
follow the following set of rules:

 Use of the elevators during a building fire where the building is less than 7 floors high, is generally
 In order for the doors to open or close, you have to physically push and hold the ‘door open’ and ‘door
closed’ buttons. This gives firefighters on the elevator a chance to quickly see if conditions on the floor
are tenable, and to quickly close the elevator doors for firefighter’s safety. If the ‘door open’ button is
not held while being pushed, the doors will not open.
 The door opening sensor that usually notices when people walk into the elevator and then
automatically opens the door, is not operative in phase II.
 Maintenance workers, managers, or any other facility employees shall not, under any circumstances,
accompany firefighters to the area of investigation unless the situation/call, is known to be a false
alarm or otherwise safe situation.

Elevator Incidents
Operation Of Elevators On Phase II

Phase II or “Firefighters Operation”, occurs after Phase I has taken place. Phase II allows firefighters to enter
the elevator with the key that was used to initiate Phase I and place it into the Phase II slot. We would use
Phase II during a fire attack above the 6th floor, or to investigate a possible
fire with no obvious signs of fire showing. Picture of Phase II controls

To place the elevator you are in into Phase II, insert the key into the switch,
and move the key to the ‘ON’ position. Press the door close button and
hold until door closes. Press button for desired floor. Once the car arrives at
the desired floor, press door open momentarily, or just enough to give a
visual for signs of fire. If no visual signs are present, hold door open button
until car door is fully opened. Turn switch to the ‘HOLD’ position and
continue investigation. Do not allow car to return to lobby by removing key.
Upon returning to the car, insert key, turn switch to “ON” and repeat initial
steps to return to main floor, with the only obvious difference being the
selection of floor.

Rescue Of Victims-Occupants From Trapped Elevators

Our most common interaction with elevators (aside from standard EMS calls !) will be from people caught in
elevators. The most important aspect of this scenario will be dependent on whether or not an emergency
exists. If there is a medical emergency ,fire , smoke, or even flooding of the elevator, for example, those would
be some obvious indications of an emergency, and we can consider those people ‘victims’. A person simply
stuck, despite possibly being in a hurry, does not constitute an emergency. These people we would consider
‘occupants’. Every attempt should be made to contact the buildings designated elevator mechanic or repair
company to assist. This information is required to be in the elevator machine room. The Middleburg Heights
Fire Department SOG for elevator emergencies lists the steps to follow for both emergent and non emergent
scenarios. We will not repeat those here.

The keys to these types of calls:

 Assess if an emergency exists

 Call elevator repair mechanic
 Determine if car is within 3 feet, above or below, the landing
 Reassure the occupants/victims that help is on the way
 Use Phase I operation to possibly over ride the car’s troubles and return the car to the designated
 Lock out tag out !

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Forcible Entry

When all else fails and time is of the essence, forcible entry into an elevator may be necessary. We have made
this decision based on:

 A potentially serious medical condition of a victim in the elevator

 A fire or other hazardous atmosphere in the hoistway
 A delayed response by the elevator mechanic

The standard set of tools listed below may be considered:

1. Rabbit tool
2. Spreaders
3. Set of irons
4. Air bags

Try before you pry ! It seems an odd or even out of place concept in an elevator event, but you may be able to
open the hoistway doors by hand. First, determine what type of elevator door you have. Several common
styles are listed below:

Single slide, center Two speed, center Single slide, side Two speed side open.
opening. opening opening Looks like the
previous elevator, but
the doors will be
We are trying to find the interlock, just like we would try and locate the lock on a slightly offset.
regular door. In order to determine where the interlock is at, we need to see which
way the door slides.

 Take a piece of card or other thin object and slide it in between the opening of the surface of
the door and where the door meets the wall frame.
 If the card slides into the frame, then this is the direction of travel and you want to force entry
at the other end.
 If the card hits the jam, this is the end you would want to force entry at.

Elevator Incidents

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