Firefighter Training

Throw Back to Basics: Fire Service Operations with Elevators

By Brian Zaitz

Elevators provide quick access to upper and lower floors by an elevator car. These cars vary in size, with almost all elevators having one elevator larger than the others to provide space for large items to be moved up and down (typically known as the freight elevator). As with anything, proper use and practice are needed for success. A fire event should never be the first time you attempt to take control of an elevator.

Elevators normally operate by a passenger requesting a car to his desired floor. The car reaches the floor, the doors open, and the passenger enters and selects the desired floor. The car doors close and the elevator proceeds, possibly stopping along the way for additional passengers. This is considered “normal” operations.

During an emergency the elevators can go into one of three phases of operations:

  • Phase 1—Recalling the elevator cars to the main floor. To accomplish this, insert the elevator key, which should be available through the key box or a predesignated location in the structure, into the fire control panel located by the elevators, and turned to “On.” The cars will then begin to come down to the main floor. Note: The car will not stop on any floors to pick up additional passengers; this is essentially a one-way, nonstop trip to your location.
  • Phase 2—The manual use of the cars by fire service personnel. This approach is the same as Phase 1, but this time, remove the fire service key and enter the elevator car. Next, open the fire service panel and insert key to take manual control of the car. Once inserted and turned, the operations of the car are all determined by the firefighter at the panel. Select the desired floor and hold the “Close Door” button. Once you reach the floor, hold the “Open Door” button until doors are open. Note: These are not momentary switches, as noted during normal operations; fire service override requires you fully hold these two buttons for door functionality.
  • Phase 3—The elevator cars have been recalled to a floor other than the main floor. This is because of the alarm system activation on the main floor and to prevent civilians from exiting the elevator on a fire floor. Note: Here, you can gain the fire service control by turning the elevator to fire service control (as noted in Phase 1), proceed to the designated recall floor, and enter the car. At this point, use the same procedure as Phase 2.

Note that, although elevators provide quick and efficient movement of personnel and equipment within the structure, they do have their limitations and risks. When engaging in elevators for fire suppression operations, it is imperative to look into the elevator shaft for smoke or fire. If the shaft is compromised, do not use the elevator.

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Also, do not use the elevator if the interior fireman’s call light is blinking; this indicates that the shaft has a smoke or heat detector activation. In addition, test the elevator. Department standard operating guidelines will vary, but it is normal practice to stop every three to five floors while going up; this ensures the elevator is continuing to function correctly and provides an opportunity for the company officer to check the elevator shaft and floor for smoke or fire. It also provides situational awareness and safety to the crews.


Don’t ever take the elevator car directly to the fire floor. It is recommended to exit two floors below the fire floor; this affords the company the opportunity to view the floor layout in nonsmoke and fire conditions, have unrestricted movement to the stairwell, and provide connection to the standpipe system for fire attack.

Elevators are key tool for high-rise operations and a convenience on medical alarms. Take the time to visit the elevators in your community and take control of the elevators on your next medical run so when the fire happens, your familiarity with them will allow you to conduct safe and efficient operations.


Download this training bulletin as a PDF HERE (3.3 MB)

Brian ZaitzBrian Zaitz is a 14-year student of the fire service, currently assigned as the captain/training officer with the Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District. Brian is an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC as well as instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy.  Brian holds several degrees, including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelors in fire science management, and a masters in human resource development. Brian is currently and accredited chief training officer and student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.