Lack of knowledge and training typically leads to
improper force applied
By Mike Zichichi
Have you ever responded to an elevator entrapment? Did you have a plan or procedure to follow, or did you rely on the elevator technician’s response? Have you ever had to rely on force to overcome lack of knowledge and proper procedure? If you answered, “yes” to any of these questions, please read on.
An elevator entrapment occurs when a person or a group of people are enclosed in an elevator impaired by a mechanical or electrical failure. The California Fire Service does not have a recognized standard or procedure for mitigating elevator entrapments. However, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers A17.4 is a recognized standard for elevator personnel and facility engineers. “Where this is impractical, the building management should coordinate with the local authorities responsible for rescue operations, such as the police department or fire department.” (ASME A17.4) Currently the only two standards/regulations fire service personnel shall follow when dealing with an elevator entrapment are Lock Out/Tag Out and Fall Protection. In the absence of a recognized standard for fire service response to elevator entrapments, ASME A17.4 is a good starting point.
If the fire service is going to be relied upon and respond to elevator entrapments, we should have a standard or procedure to professionally mitigate entrapments. This article will provide some solutions to assist you in the mitigation of your next elevator entrapment. This will be through response, simple-to-complex procedure on scene, and the removal of the occupant(s) without harm or damage to the elevator. These solutions will allow you to respond confidently and professionally.
Based upon your geographic location, time of day, or multiple entrapments due to power outages, it could be two hours or more for an elevator technician to respond to an entrapment. Fire stations are strategically located, therefore allowing a much faster response. A faster response, with a recognized professional procedure, equates to occupant(s) being safely removed in a timely fashion, without causing unnecessary damage to the elevator. This is why fire departments should have a standard for elevator entrapments and train to the standard.
Like any other incident, if you do not execute a plan in a coordinated effort, chances are it will negatively impact the outcome. To prevent this at your next entrapment, there are a series of simple tasks that need to occur. This should be executed with predetermined seat assignments to minimize confusion and aid in better execution of the plan. The following is a recommendation of seat assignments: engineer/apparatus operator goes to the mechanical room; captain/company officer goes to the lobby, or floor below the stalled/stuck elevator car; the firefighter(s) go to the floors above the stalled/stuck elevator car. Based on the height of the building, the complexity of the entrapment, or equipment needed, you may request additional resources if needed. These assignments are based on 3-0 or 4-0 staffing.
There are three different ways to mitigate an elevator entrapment: outside-in; from inside-out; or a combination of the two. An example of outside-in is using hoistway door picks. There is a hoistway door at every floor the elevator services, and is only visible prior to entering the elevator car. Inside-out would be a physically able person applying pressure to the car door(s) of a car within the unlock zone (distance above/below the floor where the car door and hoistway door will open together). This is possible due to the fact that car door(s) do not lock in place. An example of a combination would be bleeding a hydraulic elevator down to the unlock zone and instructing a capable occupant to open the door(s) from the inside, or using a center opening paddle to apply pressure to the car door of an elevator with center opening doors.
For any of this to be possible, you must do the following: understand the anatomy and physiology of elevators; become familiar with elevators in your jurisdiction; follow a standard and train to be proficient at the standard. Anyone responding to elevator entrapments should have a good understanding of ASME A17.4. It is also imperative to understand the requirements of the different elevator groupings. There are currently four groups of elevators. Group I is an administrative code that does not have any impact on elevator entrapments. Group II, III, and IV are all different codes and regulations that elevator installations must adhere to. Group II is any elevator installed prior to October, 1998. Group III is from October, 1998 to May, 2008. Group IV applies to any elevator installed after May, 2008 until current. Each group has a different unlock zone and will determine whether the car door has a door restrictor or not. By code the grouping is required to be labeled in some form, somewhere in the mechanical room. Most often you will find this information located on the main line disconnect.
It should be noted that the fire service elevator key (for phase 1 and 2) only works when the elevator is in normal operation. Therefore, the only time a fire service key will work to resolve an entrapment is if a Group II or III car with an accessible run/stop gets moved to the stop position. If this happens, there will be a loud audible alarm that can be heard from the lobby. The fire service key in phase 1 will recall the car to the first floor and open. This works because the elevator is in normal operation and phase 1 will override the car controls.
The engineer’s responsibility is to locate and access the mechanical room. Once access has been made, the following should be obtained: group of elevator (II, III, or IV); manufacture of elevator; hydraulic or electric; phone number for company with service contract (the company under contract to service that elevator has a responsibility to respond to entrapments 24-hours a day, 365 days a year). Just the way a utility/power company is requested to respond to power lines down or natural gas leaks, the same should occur for elevator technicians to respond to entrapments. As with any other call, we should always have a backup plan identified. If needed the engineer resets the power (successful ~90% of the time), or secures the power when the entrapment is a result of a power outage (this is step 3 in the simple-to-complex procedure). Prior to any manipulation of the elevator, the main power must be secured (turned off, lock out/tag out) at the main line disconnect. If a power reset is not successful, the engineer will secure the power (main line only), and never turn off the 110v going to the car lights. Depending on the incident, the engineer may be tasked with manually lowering a hydraulic elevator into the unlock zone. This is accomplished by opening the manual lower valve that is located on the hydraulic manifold. The valve handle will be in the shape of a capital “T” or “O”.
The captain’s primary responsibility is command and control. In addition, he/she will ensure the hoistway door is seated against the jamb and push the call button at that floor. Simultaneously the captain will make their presence known, calm and reassure, and gather pertinent information if possible. Once each of the hoistway doors are checked, and the call button has been pushed at multiple floors without resolution, the captain will call for a power reset. Power reset is turning the power off for 60 to 90 seconds, then turning it back on. This is essentially rebooting the circuit board/computer and resolves the entrapment ~90% of the time. If a reset does not work, or in the case of a power outage, the main power must be secured and lock out/ tag out completed.
The firefighter(s) will go to the floor(s) above the stalled/stuck car and do the same process as the captain did below. If the entrapment is not resolved with a power reset, the firefighter(s) will be assigned other tasks as the complexity of the procedure increases.
With the number of elevator installations increasing, so will the number of entrapments. Even in instances where entrapments do not lead to dangerous conditions, it is often still a stressful and traumatic experience for the entrapped person(s). The fire service should have a standard or procedure to mitigate the entrapment in a competent and caring way. Lack of knowledge and training typically leads to improper force applied. Improper force applied to an elevator will cause extensive damage, resulting in several thousands of dollars to repair. Through acquired knowledge and training, fire service personnel can safely and in a timely fashion, remove occupant(s) without harm or damage to the elevator. This will result in little to no stress to entrapped person(s), eliminate several thousands of dollars in damages to the elevator, and minimize the time the elevator is out of service for repair.
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Mike Zichichi is a Fire Captain for the City of Vacaville Fire Department (CA) and a 20-year veteran of the fire service. He is the owner/instructor of Specialized Rescue Training.