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Forget the Stairs – Elevator Use During Fires Sometimes Recommended

If you’ve ever worked in a building that has elevators or have gone to a multi-floor school with elevators, you have no doubt heard or read “Take the stairs in case of fire.” That has always been the rule of thumb when considering what to do in an emergency – simply do not use the elevator.

Well, that old chestnut is slowly fading away with a call from the National Institute for Standards and Technology to look toward more “holistic” approaches to emergency evacuations during crises, according to this article. The institute’s report comes on the heels of its investigation into the terrorism that occurred in the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. The article reports on the conclusions that the National Institute for Standards and Technology came to regarding high-rise evacuations:

“…uninhibited access by emergency personnel is required. Above about 40 floors, egress can take more than 1 hour, so stairs alone are clearly inadequate. In the late 1990s, NIST worked with several federal agencies and the elevator industry to study the use of elevators as a secondary means of egress to stairs. This resulted in changes in the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) that allowed the use of elevators as a secondary means of egress in air traffic control towers…”

As the need for elevator evacuations began to be recommended as a viable option for everyone in disaster situations, recommendations from the institute resulted in the elevator industry remodeling and upgrading elevators to disregard smoke, a major cause of elevators not working in case of fire. In tall high-rises and skyscrapers, “fire-safe” elevators are beginning to be installed as a precautionary measure to allow fast, efficient egress in case of emergency. These elevators will also enable rescue workers to move throughout tall buildings much more quickly.

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