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Use of elevators during a fire situation, according to the LSC

A reader contacted me recently asking where in the Life Safety Code® (LSC) does it say that the elevators are not permitted to be used when the fire alarm is activated and there is a presumption of fire. Most of us have probably seen the signs posted in the elevator lobby that reads, “In case of fire, do not use elevators,”  so where is the requirement to post these signs? This is what the LSC says concerning the use of elevators during a fire.

In the 2000 edition of the 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 7.2 of the LSC lists those components that are permitted to be used as a required means of egress, depending on whether or not they are allowed by the individual occupancy chapter. For healthcare occupancies, there are four components that are not allowed to be used as a required means of egress:

Chapter 19 (the healthcare occupancy chapter for existing conditions) allows certain components as required means of egress by listing and approving them (such as fire escape ladders in certain situations, as per 19.2.2.8), and they disallow other means of egress by exception. They don’t mention anywhere in Chapter 19 that they permit elevators, escalators, fire escape stairs, and slide escapes as an acceptable means of egress, therefore they are not permitted.

Now, section 9.4.1 says an elevator shall not be considered a component in a required means of egress, other than the exception found in 7.2.13 that an elevator in a tower that is not used by the general public, is allowed to be used as a second means of egress. But 9.4.1 also says elevators are permitted 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 (also called Phase 1), 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 authorities having jurisdiction [AHJ] 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 the question as to 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: 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-17.1 and A-17.3 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 informing people not to use the elevator in a fire, I do not know which code requires that sign. I suggest asking 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 investigation reports from the NFPA on fires where individuals have perished in elevators after the elevator has been disabled between floors. However, in those situations, 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.

For more on Life Safety Code® related advice, you can read Brad Keyes’ book “Life Safety Compliance Manual: A Guide to Joint Commission Standards [1].”