The Traveling Cable or halfway line, comes out of the wall at the halfway point in the hoistway and travels with the elevator car, supplying the 110 AC power to the car lights, fan, etc..

Door Gibs: All door panels on modern passenger elevators hang on rollers, which roll on tracks mounted at the top of the car or hoistway opening. At the bottom of the door panels, they are guided in the sill slot by door guides. Door guides, which are often referred as "gibs" normally have a plastic or metal member attached to the door panel that moves in the sill slot.

The gibs slides in a track as the hoistway doors open and close. If firefighters attempt to force open a hoistway door by breaking the gibs, lifting the door from its track, they might end up at the bottom of the hoistway with the door. This is why we don't force elevator hoistway doors near the bottom (or push - kick- lean on them). The doorway locking mechanism for the hoistway door is located at the top. Watch this video showing a door at Fenway park that had a broken gibs lock, sending a woman down the shaft. Another video showing a broken gibs during inspection. This video shows an angry drunk kicking the hoistway door open in a rage breaking the door gibs. He then enters the elevator and drops 4 stories. This isn't uncommon!

TIP: The gib blocks can be cut utilizing a hacksaw blade, reciprocating saw, or an air chisel. If the gap between the hoistway door and the floor is insufficient, pry the door upward (near the sill) to provide necessary clearance.

News: Watch this video to see what happens when force is applied to a hoistway door; in this case as a result of kids rough housing in an apartment building hallway. The force from the kid being pushed into the door broke the gibs, lifting the hoistway door off its track and the kid fell down the hoistway onto the top of an elevator car.

MRL: Machine-Room-Less elevators are typically traction elevators that do not have a dedicated machine room above the elevator shaft. The machine sits in the override space and the controls sit above the ceiling adjacent to the elevator shaft. MRL's are becoming more common.

Anti-Egress Lock Device: Allows car doors to open from inside by only 4 inches unless car is near landing.

Escutcheon Tube: The keyhole protective plate on the upper portion of a hoistway door that accepts a hoistway emergency door key and permits unlocking of the hoistway door locking mechanism. It also prevents unauthorized use of devices being placed in the hole to manipulate the door. These keyhole protective plates are usually located at the bottom and top floors, but may also be on other selected floors or all floors. They can also help identify which hoistway key to use by its shape (round, large lunar, inverted 'T'). Before 1996, ASME 17.1 code required hoistway door keys to be provided at the uppermost landing and lowest landing served by an elevator. Since 1997, the code now requires all landings to have a keyhole. (The state of California will NOT have these escutcheon tubes or holes in their elevators as its not permitted by code)


ELEVATOR PIT: The part of an elevator shaft that extends from the threshold level of the lowest landing door down to the floor at the very bottom of the shaft. Buffer springs will located in the pit to absorb a descending elevator car. A light with a light switch is required in the pit.

Elevator pits are considered a confined space. Trash fires can develop in pits, disabling elevators and creating smoke conditions.

*No light is required at the top of the hoistway as the car top is equipped with a standard caged light fixture for use by the mechanic during his maintenance visits.

*GFI duplex receptacle is required in the pit for use by the mechanic during his maintenance visit. 

*Ladder shall be provided and extend 48" above the pit access floor or as instructed by the consultant. 

*Light must have an external guard and be located at a point where illumination on the pit ladder base is no less than 10 feet. 

*Light switch must be accessible from access floor and ladder. 

*Pit must be clean and dry. A drain or sump pump is required. Sump pump recess must have a metal cover. 

*Smoke detectors are required in hoistways if sprinkled. 

*Only machinery, equipment, electrical wiring, raceways, cables, coaxial wiring, and antennas used directly in connection with the elevator, including wiring for signals, for communication with the car, for lighting, heating, air conditioning, and ventilating the car, for fire detecting systems, for pit sump pumps, and for heating and lighting the hoistway and/or the machinery space machine room, control space, or control room shall be permitted to be installed inside the hoistway, machinery space, machine room, control space, or control room.

Spring buffers (found most commonly found on hydraulic elevators or used for elevators with speeds less than 200 feet per minute) are used to cushion the elevator and are located in the elevator pit. An oil buffer is another type of buffer more commonly found on traction elevators and uses a combination of oil and springs to cushion a descending car or counterweight by accumulating or dissipating its kinetic energy. 'Strike plates' are the contact points between the car sling and the buffer springs if the car travels too far below the lowest terminal landing.

INTERLOCK: The hoistway door locking mechanism provides a means to mechanically lock each hoistway door. It shall not be possible in normal operation to open the landing door (or any of the panels in the case of a multi-panel door) unless the car has stopped, or is on the point of stopping, in the unlocking zone of the door. The unlocking zone shall not extend more than 0.2 meter above and below the landing level. The hoistway door locking mechanism provides a means to mechanically lock each hoistway door and the elevator cannot leave a landing unless the doors are fully closed and secured. They are also interconnected electrically to prevent operation of the elevator if any of the elevator’s hoistway doors are open. They are also interconnected electrically to prevent operation of the elevator if any of the elevator’s hoistway doors are open. Should the doors be forced open, the interlock circuit will be broken, causing the elevator to immediately stop. Each landing door shall be provided with a locking device satisfying the previous conditions. This device shall be protected against deliberate misuse. Landing doors shall be capable of being unlocked from the outside with the aid of key , which fit the unlocking triangle (Hoistway Emergency Door Keys).

GOVERNOR: An overspeed governor is an elevator device which act as a stop device in case the elevator runs beyond the rated speed. This device must be installed in the traction elevators and roped hydraulic elevators. (See VIDEO above)

(Pictured Right) The governor rope tension sheave and tension switch. A contact is required to alert the system if there is a loss of governor rope tension. Safeties are installed at the bottom of the elevator car and occasionally on counterweights to provide emergency stopping when activated by the governor. Wedges are forced between two jaws and the vertical rail is gripped increasing force to slow down a runaway car. Elevators are usually equipped with 1-3 safety devices:
1. Overspeed governor found on ground in the elevator machine room.
2. Rope gripper that prevents over speeding up incidents. (Can be found in elevator room or hoistway)
3. Wedges that use force between (2) jaws

CABLES-ROPES: Suspension Ropes are suspension means for car and counterweight, which are steel wire ropes. They are used on traction type elevators, usually attached to the crosshead and extending up into the machine room looping over the sheave on the motor and then down to the counter weights.

Hoisting cables are generally 3 to 6 in number. These ropes are usually 1/2”or 5/8” in diameter. The term "roping system" can be defined as the arrangement of cables supporting the elevator and which has many types or arrangements as follows:

*Single wrap: rope passes over sheave once and connected to counterweight. 
*Double wrap: rope wound over sheave twice in high speed elevators for additional traction.
*1:1 roping: when rope connected to counterweight where cable travels as far as car in opposite direction. 
*2:1 roping: rope wraps sheave on counterweight and connects to top of the shaft, rope moves twice as far as cab.

SHACKLES: Hoist ropes/cables are attached at the crosshead beam by shackles. (Above right)

Counterweights are tracked weights that are suspended from cables and move within its own set of guide rails along the hoistway walls. Counterweights equipped with sliding guides ensure smooth running along the travel height.

Counterweight is used for the following:

Balancing the mass of the complete car and a portion of the rated load. Usually equal to the dead weight of the car plus about 40% of the rated load; reducing the necessary consumed power for moving the elevator. 

DANGER: Counterweights are extremely dangerous to rescue personnel working on top of an elevator car. They are known as "silent killers" and firemen must be cognizant of counterweight movements when working within the hoistway. They move silently in tandem with the elevator, except they move in the opposite direction and can fatally strike a unaware rescue worker.

Door operation method:
Elevator doors are normally opened by a power unit that is located on top of the elevator car. When an elevator car is level with a floor landing, the power unit moves the car door open or closed. A pick-up arm (clutch, vane, bayonet, or cam) contacts rollers on the hoistway door which releases the door latch on the hoistway door. The power unit opens the car door which in turn opens the hoistway door. The door rollers and pick-up arm may be different on various elevators but they all work on the same principle. The car door does all the work; the hoistway door is a dependent and part of the structure.

Door Operator: A motor-driven device mounted on the elevator car that opens and closes the car doors. VIDEO- click here.

Aprons/Toe Guards

A Car Apron/toe guard is present at the bottom of some cars. This guard protects the passengers from being exposed to the open hoistway under the car if the doors are opened when it is not at the landing. The guard is between 21” and 48” long. When performing passenger removal and part of a hoistway is exposed, cover it with a ladder to be safe. There wont always be a perfect sized bench around (top right).

The most common type elevators are traction and hydraulic. In hydraulic elevators, a piston filled with fluid raises and lowers the car. It's much slower than the traction elevator and usually located in buildings of five stories or less (and parking garages).
Traction elevators (or electric motor) run on steel cables and counterweights. These are faster and climb higher than hydraulic elevators. Older models of "winding drum" elevators are still around in freight elevators, but are being phased out. 

Guide rails (L) are attached to the hoistway by a series of brackets designed to provide the steadiness needed by a moving system such as an elevator. The elevator cars are attached via sets of roller (R) or sliding guides which may be either swivel, rigid or roller type, which will allow for a smooth ride. Roller guides are attached to the top and bottom of the elevator car stiles (the sides of the sling of a cab). They help steady and guide the elevator through the hoistway. The guides, rails, rollers should be identified by rescue companies during heavy rescue operation. 

There are two types of door restrictors:

Electronic door restrictor- This door restrictor is tied into the door existing door systems and is installed on the top of the elevator cab. The restrictor is set up so that there are sensors in the hoistway that operate the restrictor's plunger. The plunger ultimately is what disables the doors ability to open and close.

Mechanical door restrictor- This door restrictor is hooked onto the door operating clutch, which is a part of what opens and closes the hoistway doors. It is purely mechanical functioning system. There are two basic types of mechanical door restrictors: The clutch-type restrictor which consists of a latch located at the top of the car doors and the angle iron restrictor which consists of projections fastened to the car door and hoistway similar to an angle iron.

Restrictors keep people from getting out of a stalled or malfunctioning elevator that is out of the unlocking zone (3-18 inches above or below a landing) and putting themselves in danger. REMEMBER: If the restrictor is active and the elevator car stops while firefighters are inside operating on phase 2, they will have to force their way out (why we bring the hydraulic ram).

OPENING THE HOISTWAY DOOR: Hoistway door keys are used to open the hoistway door. They are only to be used by the elevator mechanic/technician, maintenance workers and emergency personnel. The most commonly used keys are the drop key, double drop, lunar, 'T' key and barrel. The most common key is the drop key (single, double). The key hole will resemble the shape of the key. Drop keys will turn side to side while the lunar key (half-moon shape) will require a lifting motion.

The Poling Technique: If there’s no elevator key hole on the floor you wish to access, then you’ll need to move to an upper floor that has keyhole to access the shaft. In this scenario, team members working above the stalled car will need to be secured so that they don’t fall into the shaft. CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO ON POLING TECHNIQUE.  TIP: Some codes now require a hole on every other landing in a blind shaft hoistway.

Using a technique called 'poling" with a pike pole or a broomstick, responders can (while lying on their stomach) reach down from above and push open the mechanism holding the door closed on the floor below. While the release is in the open position, another member slides the door open. Poling can be done up, down and across.

TIP: Many elevators have safety electric contacts that when the circuit is opened by any safety device, power will be removed from the driving machine motor and brake. These include the hoistway interlock, emergency stop button, the top/bottom terminal switch, the pit switch, car gate switch and the car top inspection emergency stop switch. WARNING! It's still possible for some elevators to move slightly for leveling purposes if near the landing to bring the car level.

HOISTWAY DOORS: There are many different types of hoistway doors (center opening, swing, bi-parting). Elevator hoistway doors protect riders from falling into the shaft. The most common hoistway doors are:

*Single slide door: One power operated single panel sliding doors. 
*Single speed center opening: Two power operated panels that part simultaneously.
*Two speed side opening: Two power operated panels that are geared together. 
*Two speed center opening doors: Same as one speed center opening doors but it consist of four power operated panels. 

The hoistway door and elevator car door work together to open the doors at the landing using rollers, a door operator, restrictor, vane or clutch and an interlock. The door operator consists of an electric motor generally with some type of speed reduction system (either gears or belts), mechanical linkages to the car doors and a motor speed control system.

The master door operator uses one door operator on the car to open and close the car doors. The car doors in turn are mechanically linked to the hoistway doors so that when the elevator is stopped at a particular landing the hoistway doors for that landing open and close in synchronism with the elevator car doors.

DO NOT STEP on the hoistway ventilation grates in the EMR! Falling through these will send a fireman down the hoistway. Some of these grates are removed and covered with cardboard, plywood, etc..

Car top inspection station.


We now see why it's called a dumbwaiter. 

Operation of a dumbwaiter.

Freak accident in dumbwaiter kills college student.

Basic Anatomy of Traction/Hydraulic Elevators

Advanced Elevator Diagram Click Here

Hydraulic Elevator

Calls for stalled elevators are common for fire departments with numerous mid-rise, high-rise,  and commercial buildings. Other incidents involving elevators are medical emergencies, passengers stuck in an elevator, extrications involving  pin or crush injuries, or a recovery. Most elevator incidents are non-emergency "stuck in the box" calls where passengers are stranded in a stalled elevator as a result of equipment failure, power failure or human error. This usually requires the main power to the stalled elevator to be shut down and a safe method of removal determined by an experienced company officer. New or inexperienced firefighters who are not trained on elevators shouldn't be experimenting during a passenger removal as it can have deadly consequences, serious repercussions, and liability issues. In most departments elevator assignments are left to the more experienced members of the truck/squad/rescue companies. Smaller departments may rely on an elevator technician.

REMEMBER:  All elevators are NOT the same and working around hoistways and mechanical rooms can be extremely dangerous. Elevators (and escalators) are responsible for an average of 30 fatalities and 18,000 injuries per year caused by firescrush and pin injuries, loss of limbs, panic attacks, elevator surfing, falls down the hoistway, and decapitation

All firemen should have some basic knowledge of elevators so they can be relied upon to perform simple tasks even if only assigned to a support role. It's also important to determine what additional resources are needed. Do not hesitate to call the rescue or squad company, building maintenance, or an elevator mechanic for assistance. Firemen are not there to repair malfunctioning elevators, hoistway doors, or touch the controllers. Leave that to the elevator technicians and mechanics.

Firefighters SHOULD be familiar with the following:

*Properly securing the mainline power to the stalled elevator.
*Safety procedures and the dangers of elevators, hoistways and MER's- EMR's.
*Identifying the different types of elevators (hydraulic-traction), the EMR locations, and common hoistway door keys.
*The elevator control position, shunt trips, and phase 1-2 firefighter recall.
*The proper tools to carry, proper resources to notify, and different methods of passenger removal.
*Basic anatomy of elevators, hoistways, and machine rooms. 
Conducting building surveys/fire preplans combined with hands on training will make firemen more proficient with elevators.

REMEMBER: ​The fire department is called because there is something WRONG with the elevator. Always secure the MAIN power to the elevator before passenger removal or a crush injury, and NEVER take an elevator directly to the reported fire floor. Ignoring these two simple tasks can have fatal consequences. (See videos below)

LEFT- Traction Elevator and Governor: CENTER- Hydraulic Elevator Motor and Bleeder Valve: RIGHT- Winding Drum Motor:

The elevator hoistway (elevator shaft).

Memphis LODD. Taking the elevator directly to the fire floor can have deadly consequences.

Most residential elevators have swing doors, but no interlock. With local building codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and affordability for high end home owners, we are seeing an increase in residential elevators in structures over two stories.

TIP: These elevators can be extremely DEADLY during a residential structure fire because of their shaft. Firemen doing primary searches with low visibility can open the swing door believing they are searching a room, or advancing a line, and easily fall down the shaft.


Above Left: The gearless traction elevator is commonly found in high rises over 20 stories and reach speeds of 35 MPH. For more in depth information on the different types of driving machines from geared, gearless, hydraulic and drum, click here.

The Passaic FD had to breach this wall at a hospital to free a 300lb patient in cardiac arrest, stuck in a blind shaft elevator. READ MORE


*Are there elevator keys/hoistway keys in the knox box?

*How many occupants are stuck in the elevator? What floor are they stuck on? (Check the lit number display above the door)

*Is there a medical emergency? Does EMS need to respond?

*What type of elevator is it, passenger or freight? Is it hydraulic or traction? This will help you determine the EMR location and lowering capability.

*Where's the mechanical room to SECURE THE POWER?

*Has an elevator technician been called? Is one even needed?

*Is your crew capable of performing an elevator passenger removal?

*Is there a fire or crush injury involved? Do you have the needed personnel and equipment?

*Is there a building representative or maintenance on scene? If not, contact the building representative.

*Are passengers within the landing zone? If so, ask them to check the STOP button, and press the DOOR OPEN button. If NOT within the landing zone, try recalling the elevator to the lobby by placing it in Phase 1 (firefighter recall). If that doesn't work, try shutting the power off to the elevator for 30 seconds, and then turn it back on. (Newer elevators may be run by computers that have to reset) If the car is still stalled SECURE THE POWER to the elevator and determine the best method of removal. 

Removal options below: If it's a hydraulic elevator, you can lower it to the landing manually depending on if it's permissible by the fire department in that jurisdiction. FIRST SECURE THE MAIN POWER.

TIP: Sometimes just wiggling the car doors shut will return the elevator to service. There could be a break in the electric contacts. 


*Elevator Keys: Double Drop, Single Drop, 'T' Lunar, Double Barrel.

*Lockout/Tagout Kit

*Attic/Scissor Ladders: (2 if doing car top removal)

*Rescue Rope, Carabineers, Harness.

*Tools: Irons, Hydraulic Ram, Door Chocks, 6' or 8' Pike Pole/Jarclose Tool, Flashlight.

Practice using your basic elevator hoistway door keys.


In California there are no key holes on the hoistway doors. The options are a Z key, or forcing the doors.

Firemen used an airbag to create space between the elevator and shaft where a kids foot was stuck while inverted.


Press or squeeze a clutch to open the car door.

Car top controls, safety rail and car door operator.

Door restrictor device and clutch.

Two excellent training videos on elevator emergency response by Tom Novak from Toms River FD, and Jeff Tokar from Garland TX.

The car door opener can be operated manually from top of the car once the POWER IS SECURE.

Emergency stop/pit switches/car top inspection stop switches are NOT to be substituted for securing the power at the main disconnect.

Secure the MAIN power to the PROPER elevator.  Do NOT get the MAIN power confused with the separate 110v power to the cars fans, lighting, intercom, etc..

An elderly woman miraculously survived this fall down a hoistway into the pit.

This is NOT the proper way to remove a passenger from a stalled elevator.

Hydraulic reservoirs with an overheating sump pump can heat up hydraulic fluid causing a smoke condition and activating the fire alarm system in the building.


*Know the type of elevator: Is it hydraulic or traction? This can help you determine the location of the elevator machine room. 

*Mechanical room locations: This is where you will SECURE THE MAIN POWER to the elevator. Traction elevator mechanical rooms will usually be on the roof in a penthouse (the box type structure on the roof). Hydraulic EMR's can be anywhere, but usually are located in the basement or the ground floor. Perform lockout/tagout or assign a fireman with a portable radio stationed at the shutoff when the power is secured. REMEMBER: DO NOT TOUCH the controllers for the elevator (technicians only).

*Phase 1-2 Firemen Service: This is a fire safety feature in some elevators allowing firemen to recall the elevator to the lobby and take control of its use. A fireman is assigned to the elevator control position for elevators with this service.

*Shunt Trip Device:  If the white fire helmet on the gang station panel inside the elevator is blinking, do NOT use the elevator. It trips when water, fire, or smoke are in the hoistway, or upon activation of a heat detector in an elevator machine room protected by sprinklers. It removes the main power and the elevator will stop, trapping firemen inside the car. They will lose control of the elevator and have to force their way out. If it's blinking, take the stairs or use another bank and notify the IC.

*Proper tools to carry and use of the elevator keys: Common hoistway keys are single/double drop, lunar, barrel and 'T' key. Most doors will have a key hole on the hoistway door (except in the state of CA). If not present, the lobby and top floor should have them. Some keys (Lunar) may be at the bottom wall in between hoistway doors. Carry forcible entry tools (activated shunt trip can trap you inside the elevator) jarclose tool, pike pole, broomstick, hydraulic ram, flashlight, and a door chock. If removing passengers through top hatch on the floor above, bring collapsible attic/scissor ladders, ropes and harnesses.

*Car top inspection station: Elevators have a car top inspection station that allows the car to be operated by a mechanic in order to move it through the hoistway. Generally, there are three buttons: UP, RUN, and DOWN. Both the RUN and a direction button must be held to move the car in that direction, and the elevator will stop moving as soon as the buttons are released. Most other elevators have an up/down toggle switch and a RUN button. The inspection panel also has standard power outlets for work lamps and power tools. It also has a stop button and light switch. This stop or off button can be activated in addition to the mainline power. However, do not substitute this for the main power!

*The unlocking zone is usually 3-18 inches from the landing where the restrictor is not engaged, and the car door if rolled properly, will open. (This is allowed because there is not enough room for the doors to fall down the hoistway at this point.)

*'Hoistway is a shaft encompassing the elevator car. A BLIND hoistway is a bank where elevators do not serve every floor. EXAMPLE: In a 50 story building, the elevator will only service the 1st floor lobby, then proceed directly to the 30th floor and only service floors 30-50, leaving floors 2-29 a 'blind' hoistway. These will usually require a technical rescue, or an adjacent car removal IF the hoistway doors are not accessible. (Some codes require an escutcheon tube (keyhole) on every other floor)

*Lowering a hydraulic elevator: Some fire departments do not allow firemen to lower hydraulic elevators. Check your SOP's.

*When to request an elevator mechanic: If it's a crush injury, make sure the elevator company knows that for an emergency priority response. A17.1 Code Requirement- A 24 hour service card with contact information for the elevator company must be located in EMR.

*Know the following elevator, mechanical room & hoistway anatomy: Traction motor, winding drum, crosshead, safety plank, safety interlock, door gibs, roller guides, overspeed governors, traveling cable, counterweights, pit switch, buffer springs, guide rails, car top inspection, emergency exit hatch, blind shaft, elevator banks, and the difference between a car door (travel car door) and a hoistway door (at the landing and part of the structure). Common hoistway doors are swing doors, center slide, single slide, double slide and bi-parting (freight). (See diagram below)

*If you have to force the door do it near the top of the door near the locking mechanism, not the bottom.

*Always make contact with trapped passengers: Assure them you're going to get them out and keep them calm, prevent panic, and ask if anyone has a medical emergency. Ask them if the emergency stop button is activated. Ask what floor they're stuck on. If they are at the landing, ask them to push the 'open door' button.

*Securing the mainline power: Next to the MAIN power shutoff is the 110v power shutoff to the car lights, fan, phone etc.. This is NOT the same as securing the MAIN POWER. It's a different shutoff and should be left on.

*Be careful of high voltage cabinets and moving machinery in the EMR: Be careful with loose clothing, portable radio straps and cords when working near the moving parts of the motor. It's dangerous and can cause death or serious injury if caught in the machinery. Also watch tools around the high voltage cabinets. (EMR 600 Volts AC)

*Watch the counterweights:  Be cognizant of the counterweights from other elevators moving in the same bank you're working in, when on top of an elevator car.

TIP: Visiting EMR's should be part of the fire preplan. Make sure the key works to the machine room door. Check to see if the power disconnects are numbered correctly. Take a few minutes to watch the driving machine of an elevator in action. Hydraulic EMR's are usually located on the ground floor or basement and have reservoirs with bleeder valves to lower the car.

VIDEO showing how elevators function, anatomy, and safety features.

GRAPHIC WARNING: Malfunctioning elevators should be removed from service immediately.

GRAPHIC: Secure the power to the elevator. You do NOT want this to happen during a passenger removal.

NYPD officer dies in elevator as it opened up on the fire floor. The 2nd officer was seriously injured.

Escalators COMING SOON

An overheated light ballast can occur in elevator cars where fluorescent lights are present. Firemen recognize the signs of an overheated ballast by its odor or the slight haze present near the fixture. Using a thermal imaging camera can also help identify an overheated ballast. Shut the lights off, secure the 110v power in the EMR and disconnect the wires leading to the ballast before it gets hot enough to ignite any nearby combustibles. Some older lights contains PCB's so make sure gloves and PPE are worn when working around the light fixture and ballast. For more on light ballast hazards click here.

TIP: Ruptured water pipes and sprinkler activations can flow towards the elevator shaft. DO NOT use the elevators when water is flooding the shaft or elevator car.

TIP: Some codes require car top emergency exits to be locked from the outside to prevent occupants from gaining access to the top of the car. They are usually secured with slide bolt latches, wing nuts. Once opened, there is usually an easily removable light baffle present. 

Air Bags: Can be used during an emergency to force open center opening doors. This will break the interlocks at the top of the doors, but cause minor damage as the broken interlocks are easily repaired. Insert at the upper part of door and have passengers move to the back of the car before inflating.

Hydraulic Spreaders: Can be used in extreme emergencies. This will cause considerable damage to the hoistway doors and/or elevator car. Place spreader tips on the upper 2/3 of the hoistway doors. Use cribbling between tips and door to distribute force.

Elevator Door Restrictors: Prevents the car doors of an elevator from opening more than four inches when the elevator is not within its "landing zone," which is usually 18 inches above or below the floor landing. Since 1980, due to numerous elevator accidents involving passengers riding the top of elevator cars, the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) started incorporated door restrictors by code. 


Phase 2:A mode of operation activated by the firefighters independent service key switch inside the elevator. This can only be activated when a phase 1 recall of the elevators is in effect and with the elevator at the lobby or designated floor with the doors open. Phase 2 gives the emergency responder the option of accessing an active alarm area by elevator, but alters the functions of the elevator car in ways that increase the margin for safety of the responder. 

When Phase 2 is activated, the responder assumes manual control of an individual elevator car. The car works almost normally, with important exceptions. The firemen can instruct the car to go to any floor it serves. When the car arrives at the floor, the doors do not open automatically. The doors will open only with continuous pressure on the door open button. If the button is released during opening, the doors will stop opening and reclose. This feature is meant to protect firefighters from opening the doors into a fire situation. Once the doors have been fully opened the elevator will stay in place with the doors open and they will remain open until a command is given to close them by continuously holding the door close button. The elevator will then remain in place with the doors closed until a floor button is pressed, when it will then start the same process on the selected floor. The Phase 2 keyed switch in the car has an “Off”, “On” and sometimes a “Hold” positions as follows: 

The “Hold” position: allows fire personnel to remove the key and search a floor while the elevator car is waiting with the doors open. 

Off position: Puts elevator back into phase 1 control, unless elevator is not in phase I, then the elevator will stay at that location with doors open until it is put into phase 2 again, returned to lobby and then switched to the off position. 

On position: Puts the elevator into firefighter’s independent service. 

TIP: To take control of and use only one elevator in a bank (Example: medical calls or training) without placing the entire bank out of service, do the following:

Place the elevators in phase 1 operation and recall the elevator.

Enter the elevator and place the car into phase 2 operations. 

Take the key out, and then take it back out of phase 1.

Continue controlling the elevator you have selected. This will free up the other elevators in that bank. This is courteous in nursing homes or other occupancies where there's no fire and elderly residents have difficulty with stairs.

Woman falls down shaft at Fenway ballpark. The hoistway doors gibbs lock was broken.

2015:CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago firefighter died early Monday after falling two stories down an elevator shaft while fighting a smoky blaze in a warehouse on the city's South Side. Firefighter Daniel Capuano, 42, was searching for the source of the blaze on the second floor, but he couldn't see because of heavy smoke and fell down the shaft to the basement, Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago said. "As the firefighters went in there they saw some holes throughout the floor," Santiago said. "They gave out an emergency alert, 'Be careful.' It looks like Firefighter Daniel had just walked into the elevator shaft as he was searching, couldn't see and fell."

Bronx man crushed to death in elevator. This will be a gruesome recovery.


Although rare occurrences, fires in elevator cars and elevator pits do happen. They are usually content fires that create smoke conditions on numerous floors. (In a pattern similar to trash chutes) Other elevator related fires are electrical and involve fan belts, light ballast, motors in the EMR, or the car door motor on the elevator cab. These fires can damage the elevator making it unsafe for use. Elevator fire incidents can be complex and mitigating them will depend on the unique circumstances involved upon arrival.

An intense fire in an elevator car can do significant damage by warping hoistway doors, guide rails and damaging cables. There have been fires where elevator cars have been loaded with garbage, mattresses and furniture, torched with gasoline,and sent to another floor.

Fires in the pit are usually small trash fires due to debris collecting over time. While appearing to be only minor incidents, smoke created by the fire is the main concern. If fire is beneath the elevator, bring the car to the lowest landing and evacuate passengers. This will reduce the spread of smoke to the upper floors. Evacuate all other elevators and shut down power.

When fires occur in the EMR, it will most likely be the driving motor or overheated hydraulic fluid. DO NOT use water for extinguishment. Fire extinguishers are available in all EMR's. The power should be shut off to the elevators, passengers removed and EMR ventilated. Place elevators 'Out Of Service' and contact elevator company and building representative. 

Elevator Fires

Elevator surfing caused many deaths in NYC during the 80's. Good movie showing how tragic this epidemic was.

VIDEO: Elevator surfer tours through the hoistway.

Passenger Removal Methods

TIP: Before entering a EMR to secure power make sure your tools are left outside as the potential for electrocution is high.

Elevator Machine Room is an enclosure in which the machinery and electrical controls used for an elevator are contained. The room must be fully enclosed or otherwise secured against non-authorized access. Usually located above the hoistway in a penthouse or two floors above the highest floor it serves, but may be in the basement if overhead space is unavailable.
Within a typical machine room one will likely find the following:

​Electrical Disconnects
Machine (geared or gearless or drum type)
Machine brake
Drive motor
Motor Generator Set
Car Controller Cabinet
Group Dispatcher or Common Relay Panel Cabinet


Inspection service is designed to provide access to the hoistway and car top for inspection and maintenance purposes by qualified mechanics. It is first activated by a key switch on the car operating panel usually labeled 'Inspection', 'Car Top', 'Access Enable' or 'HWENAB'. When this switch is activated the elevator will come to a stop if moving, car calls will be canceled (and the buttons disabled), and hall calls will be assigned to other elevator cars in the group (or canceled in a single elevator configuration). The elevator can now only be moved by the corresponding 'Access' key switches, usually located at the top-most (to access the top of the car) and bottom-most (to access the elevator pit) landings. The access key switches will allow the car to move at reduced inspection speed with the hoistway door open. This speed can range from anywhere up to 60% of normal operating speed on most controllers, and is usually defined by local safety codes. (Firefighters key will NOT work on IS)

Phase 1:A mode of operation activated by a smoke detector located in an elevator lobby, elevator machine room, elevator hoistway or by a keyed recall switch. This activation returns all cars to the main egress lobby or an alternated designated landing, opens the elevator doors and removes the cars from service. If the car is on independent service, the elevator will revert to Phase 1 recall in about 60 seconds. An emergency responder may want to manually activate an elevator recall because of an emergency situation that has not been detected by an automatically alarm system. 

A firefighter or maintenance representative may want to override an automatically initiated recall because an alarm area has been found to be safe and the automatic system has not yet been reset or has malfunctioned. The keyed recall switch has an 'On', 'Off' and sometimes a 'bypass' position. The key is removable in the 'On' and 'Off' positions only. On position puts elevators into phase 1 recall and off puts elevator back into normal service. 

TIP: 'Bypass' puts elevator back into service regardless of whether the smoke detectors are reset. The key must be kept in switch when it is in the bypass position. The 'bypass' position is used to override any automated recall resulting from a fire alarm or smoke sensor (older elevators will have 'bypass' instead of 'hold').

*If the alarm is reset and fire service turned off and the elevators do not return to normal service, try and place the key back in and use the bypass-then off to reset them.

Note: The 'bypass' feature is being replaced with a 'reset' feature for elevators installed or altered under ASME A17.1a, 2002.

Phase 1, 2 Operations - FF Elevator Recall

Surveillance footage of mother saving her son's life, seconds before falling to her death inside an escalator.

Safety Features and Operation


Poling Technique

Impatient man falls to his death ramming scooter into hoistway door.

You just never know when a call like this will come in...


Tools firemen carry provide an excellent ground to high 600v AC electrical sources. REMEMBER to watch loose clothing, radio cords and straps that can be caught in moving equipment.

Milwaukee: Man dies jumping off elevator falling 14 stories. Choose not to call FD.

Car Top Removal

When an elevator is stalled between two floors (unless a hydraulic elevator is lowered) a top hatch removal is necessary.

First the mainline power to the stalled elevator will have to be shut off. Then open the hoistway door on the floor above the stalled car and chock the door. If there are other elevators operating in the same bank as the stalled elevator, bring those elevator cars adjacent to the stalled elevator, or one floor below (If possible bring one elevator car on each side of the stalled elevator). NEXT: Secure the power to all elevators in that bank. This will give rescue workers a safe environment by preventing cables and counterweights from moving through the hoistway while extricating passengers from the car. It also provides a safety platform nearby just in case. 

NEXT: Place a ladder (straight, scissor, attic) down to the top of the stalled car and have a few firemen climb down secured with a harness/rope, carrying an additional harness for the stuck passengers, a flashlight and a collapsible ladder. Have a member bring a pry tool in case the top hatch door is stuck or has added security. Once on top of the stalled car shut OFF the car top power and turn ON the light switch. Open the car top hatch (usually wing nuts-slide bolts) and place the 2nd ladder (folding, attic, scissor) down into the car and enter to talk with the trapped occupants and instruct them of the method of removal.

NEXT: With occupants secured to a harness, assist them up the ladder on to the car top, and up the 2nd ladder to safety. If any of the occupants are unable to exit the stalled car via ladder, an elevator technician needs to respond. (They will be able to lower the elevator) The remaining working cars may return to service, but the stalled elevator should remain SHUT DOWN, elevator and building representative notified, and an OUT OF ORDER sign placed on the elevator.

TIP: Forcing doors should be done at the top near the locking mechanism and are a last resort option. It is discouraged unless there's an extreme emergency. When forcing elevator doors, have the occupants move to the back and face the rear.

Adjacent car removal and rope rescue (in blind shafts) will be covered under 'rescue operations' as these will be more difficult and dangerous operations (high angle) handled by specially trained members of the rescue and squad companies, USAR, or under the direction of an elevator technician. (Anchoring for elevator rescue- click here)

Car Governor
Counterweight Governor
Rope Gripper
Light fixtures and light control switch
Fire alarm devices
Hoist beam
Power receptacles
HVAC equipment (used to service the elevator equipment room or space)
Deflector Sheave

Elevators have a car top inspection station that allows the car to be operated by a mechanic in order to move it through the hoistway. Generally, there are three buttons- UP, RUN, and DOWN. Both the RUN and a direction button must be held to move the car in that direction and the elevator will stop moving as soon as the buttons are released. Other elevators have an up/down toggle switch and a RUN button. The inspection panel also has standard power outlets for work lamps and power tools.

​TIP: Every elevator must have an emergency stop switch and a light switch located inside the hoistway on the wall on the doorjamb side at the lowest and uppermost access to the hoistway.

TIP: Knowing the anatomy of elevators is essential for heavy rescue companies. If performing an extrication, recovery, crush, or pin in an elevator shaft, it's critical to know the mechanical, moving, and structural parts of the elevator. (Photo- Elevator Machine Room Fire)

Blood pours from elevator after it crushes cruise ship worker to death. Read more...



There are 3 common types of driving machines for elevators (in addition to hydraulic applications).

1- Gearless Machine: A higher speed elevator usually found in high-rises. (traction)

2- Geared Machine: A slower speed than the gearless, commonly found in mid-rises and low-rises. (traction)

3- Winding Drum: These are being phased out due to code, but are still around in older passenger and freight elevators.

When arriving on scene for a stalled elevator with passengers stuck inside, determine how many passengers are inside, what floor they are stuck on, and if there's any medical emergency or disability on board. Assure them and have them remain calm. Before determining a method of removal, instruct the passengers to hit the 'door open' button and give the doors a horizontal wiggle as the elevators might only need to be jimmied closed to operate correctly. Contact a building representative, maintenance or an elevator technician if needed, depending on the incident.

Method of Removal:

First, retrieve the firefighter operation key from the knox box and place the elevator into phase1 operation to see if the elevator recalls to the landing. If that doesn't work, secure the main power to the elevator for 30 seconds and turn it back on. This can allow the relays to reset. If the elevators do not reset, secure the main power and perform lockout/tagout or station a member with a radio in the EMR.

If the stalled elevator car is even or within a few feet of the landing, advise the occupants that they will be extricated shortly. Have one occupant press the 'door open' button. If that's not successful, use a key to open the hoistway door and chock it open. Advise the occupants of the car to move to the rear until removal is ready to take place. Open the elevator car door and assist the passengers out of the elevator car. (Poling techniques may have to be used to open doors)

If the elevator car is more than a few feet above the landing, block the opening to the shaft below the elevator with a ladder to prevent any fall hazards through an exposed hoistway void space.

If the elevator car is more than a few feet below the landing, or stuck in between floors, a ladder may be needed to assist them out OR a car top removal will need to take place.

TIP: Car doors will move freely if within operational range of the floor (18'). If separation is greater, the car door will need to be disengaged. Once activated, the door should move freely.

As you can see, really crazy things happen around elevators. This will be a recovery incident, not a rescue.

Hospital worker crushed in pit by hydraulic elevator.

TIP: If there's any indication of slack rope accumulation on the car top or in the EMR (Elevator Machine Room) this will be an indication of an extremely dangerous condition.

Do not get the MAIN POWER confused with the 110-volt disconnects that provide the lights and fan for the elevator. They should be left on and the MAIN POWER shut off.

NY man crushed as he stepped out of the elevator halfway and it dropped

What Are The Chances? (L) Natural gas explosion destroys hotel and six adjacent buildings killing 20 people. The fire that resulted from the explosion spread vertically through inadequately protected elevator shafts and stairways. Full story click here. (R) Elevator Machine Room fire in penthouse, St Paul Minnesota.

Natural Gas Leaks in Elevator Shafts: Natural gas leaks can find its way into the elevator shaft, especially in midrise and highrise buildings. Firemen must maintain control of ignition sources. Elevators should not be used as the gas will collect at the top of the shaft close to the machine room. Pressing a button to call the elevator is an ignition source. If shutting the power starts a backup electric generator located inside the building, shutting the power may not be a good idea, as the generator will become a potential ignition source. If the electric is to be turned off to eliminate possible ignition sources, do not shut the power at the building's electric panel or switches, and do not operate light or appliance switches. These actions can generate a spark that might ignite the gas. It's critical that readings be taken with meters to locate the source and identify the LEL-UEL %. 

Remember: If an explosion occurs inside the building it may damage the elevator car, doors, cables, guiderails and safety mechanisms. People may be trapped in an unstable unsafe elevator car in a hazardous environment. Murphy's law has arrived.

TIP: The term 'Piston Effect' refers to the transient pressure differentials created by the movement of an elevator car. Tall buildings with high speed elevators will experience this push of air. Keep that possibility in mind for attempting to locate odors of gas

Intoxicated man falls to his death down a freight elevator shaft.

Girl falls several stories down freight elevator shaft in the Soho section of NYC.

New York: Elevator accident kills executive. Caused by a sudden lift of the elevator.

2015: Cincinnati Firefighter Daryl Gordon, 54, died after failing down an elevator shaft at a four-alarm fire. Crews issued a “Mayday” when they spotted the firefighter down, and worked carefully to rescue him without causing further injury.
“If he comes loose, he falls another floor!” a firefighter shouted on a fire radio. Listen to Mayday audio- click here.

Lowering Hydraulic Elevator Cars: In departments where permissible, lowering the hydraulic elevator can be accomplished by locating the bleeder valve at the reservoir tank in the EMR (elevator machine room) and partially opening the valve slowly while communicating with other members at the landing. The elevator car will have to be checked periodically until leveled at the landing. THIS MUST BE DONE WITH THE MAIN POWER SHUT OFF.

Traction elevators can be lowered by an elevator mechanic, not by the fire department.

TIP: It's important to always have the trapped occupants verify the status of the emergency stop button. If an elevator is stalled due to a malfunction, it's necessary for the emergency stop button to be disengaged before power will be returned to an inoperative elevator (placed in the normal/run position).

New York: Repairman charged after elevator maims woman.

Arizona: Freefalling elevator injures woman in Phoenix.

Safety Components: Electric elevators are equipped with two primary safety mechanisms: a governor which controls the elevator's speed by controlling the speed of the cable pulleys, and the emergency brake which consists of jaws that grip the elevator guide rails in the event the cables break. Elevators also include electromechanical door interlocks to prevent the elevator from operating if the door is not completely closed and to protect passengers from being trapped by the closing door. The same door interlocks also prevent the outer doors on each floor from opening if the elevator is not present.

Operation: Most elevators use counterweights which equal the weight of the elevator plus 40% of its maximum rated load. This counter-weight reduces the weight the motor must lift and ensures that the elevator cannot fall out of control while the cable is intact. In a lifting drum installation, a hoist cable runs down from a drive drum attached to the hoist motor, around a large pulley on the top of the elevator, up to a second pulley hanging from the roof of the elevator shaft, and down again to the counterweight. In a traction drum installation, the cable runs from the elevator, up and once around a drive drum attached to the hoist motor, then back to the counterweight. The elevator, called the car, and the counterweight each run in their own sets of guide rails. A second governor cable runs from the car up to a governor pulley, then down to a tension pulley at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and up to the car again. This cable rotates the governor pulley at a speed directly proportional to the speed of the car. In the event of excessive car speed, the governor uses another cable to activate the emergency brake jaws which grip the guide rails and slow the car to a stop