An elevator can be stuck or stalled as the result of an electrical or mechanical problem. Sometimes these problems can be corrected by the elevator’s occupants or by members of the rescue team.

After making verbal contact with elevator occupants and ascertaining that they are not hysterical or injured, rescuers may be able to relay instructions to them to correct the problem. In many instances a broken electrical contact is causing the elevator to stall. Have one of the occupants make sure that the car door is fully closed by pushing it.

Rescue team members should check that all hoistway doors are in the closed position. Check the ones closest to the stalled car first. The problem may have occurred just after the car left that floor.

Instruct the occupants to press the Door Open button; if the car is at a hoistway opening this may open the door at that floor. They can try pressing the first-floor button or the button for the floor at which the car terminates (intermediate banks of elevators can terminate at upper floors) in hopes of returning the car to its termination level. If they already pressed the Emergency Stop button, they first must deactivate it before any of the other buttons will work. Some elevators may have a special Fireman’s Service—the use of a special key at the elevator termination point returns the elevator to that level.

The easiest way to correct stalling problems is to enlist the services of an elevator mechanic, but one usually isn’t at the scene when you need him. If all else fails, then you must remove the occupants.


First, shut down the power supplying the problem elevator. Two members should go to the machinery room, taking with them communications to maintain contact with the members operating at the elevator. The machinery room may be located either at the top or bottom of the elevator shaft or on a floor or two above the highest floor served by that bank of elevators. If keys are not available for the machinery room, you’ll need to use forcible entry. Having two members present will make forcible entry easier and provide additional safety for operating in these machinery rooms.

After gaining entry, shut down the power for the problem car. Regulations require that all switches be marked to indicate the cars they serve. If for any reason you cannot determine which is the correct switch, shut down all the switches for safety reasons. Always leave one member at the power switch so that nobody turns the power back on while members are working on the car. Even after operations are completed, make sure that a qualified elevator mechanic turns the power back on.

Members should be aware of possible openings in the floor of the machinery room that are used to ventilate the elevator shafts. They often are covered with gratings, which may be in a state of disrepair, or other materials that are used in place of the grating that do not provide the necessary protection or support.

After shutting down the power in the machinery room, notify the rescue team members at the problem elevator. They in turn can usually open the hoistway door with an elevator key or tool. (Normal work tools cannot be used to open the door.)

Occupants of the car can be of great assistance if they can open the car door of the elevator by forcibly pulling it into the open position, and if the elevator car is near the hoistway door. If these two conditions exist, the occupants may be able to trip the locking device of the hoistway door. Another method of tripping the locking device is by poling—when rescue members operating from an adjacent car or from a hoistway opening above use a pole or hook to trip the locking device, while a member stationed at the hoistway door on the landing pulls the door open. Familiarization with the various types of doors (sliding, swing, center-opening) is required as each has its own individual locking device.

The first removal option and the easiest should be the removal of passengers to the landing closest to the elevator car. At times this may not be possible (for example, with cars that stop only at even or odd floors, and the stalled car is above the closest landing).

Removing passengers through the top hatch opening and up a ladder to the hoistway opening above may be the only way out. When operating from above, lower a ladder to the roof of the elevator car. Two members should climb down to the top of the car and open the hatch. Usually a screwdriver or wrench will be necessary to open the hatch, but don’t be surprised if the opening is welded, bolted, or secured (to prevent illegal entry) and requires forcible entry.

After gaining entry through the hatch opening, place a small ladder down into the elevator car. One member should go down into the car and prepare the occupants for removal. Attach safety lines to rescue team members and elevator occupants during removal. Sufficient lighting during these operations will provide additional safety. As in removing victims with all ladders, members must provide as much assistance as necessary during removal operations.

Cars stalled in blind shaftways are a much greater challenge to rescuers. Normally, access openings are required throughout the run of the shaft. These access openings are spaced at greater distances than hoistway openings are, and space requirements may vary in municipalities, cities, towns, and states.

If removing passengers from the stalled car down to a hoistway landing, you must take additional safety measures. Protect the opening into the shaftway from the bottom of the elevator car to the landing to prevent people from falling into the shaftway. Securely fasten the ladder from the landing to the elevator car during removal operations.

During a blackout in New York in 1965, rescuers often had to breach the blind shaftway wall to reach trapped occupants. Breaching the shaftway wall requires locating the stalled car in the shaft and then locating the closest landing. This may involve poking holes in the shaftway walls at different landings to get as close as possible to the car. Breaching may be necessary when an elevator occupant is seriously injured or unconscious and can’t be removed safely by other means.

In multi-car hoistways, a side-exit removal is possible when another car ¾ in the hoistway can be brought level with the stalled car. Having an elevator key, which can control the working elevator, will make it a lot easier to line up the cars.

The side-exit panel in the car can only be opened with a key. If no key is available, forcible entry will be required. Opening the side-exit panel of the stalled car from the shaftway side should not be a problem, as regulations require only a handle on the shaftway side for opening this exit panel.

Once you open the side-exit panel of the operating car and determine that removal is possible, you must shut down the power to both cars. Although opening the side-exit panel breaks an electrical contact and shuts down power, you also must shut down the switch in the machinery room for safety. For removal from car to car, you need planks at least 6-feet to 8-feet long to span the opening between cars. Place planks into both side-exit openings so one member can cross over into the stalled car. That member must have a safety line attached and after entering the stalled car must attach a safety line to the occupant being removed.

After all the occupants have been safely removed, secure the side-exit panel of the operating car. Restore power to the operating car from the machinery room so the car can be brought to a safe landing.*

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