SAFETY DURING ELEVATOR RESCUE OPERATIONS
Maintaining the safety of rescuers as well as passengers must be an integral part of every elevator rescue operation regardless of how minor or complex it might be.
The elevator, recognized as being the safest mode of public transportation, has many safety features, yet it can be a killer if it is misused or abused.
Fortunately, most of the incidents involving elevators are not serious. The typical scenario is one of an elevator stalling with passengers aboard. No one is injured, just inconvenienced. The passengers are safe as long as they do not attempt to escape from the car.
However, there are times when passengers become impatient awaiting the arrival of assistance and decide to escape on their own. They may attempt to leave by the elevator doors or the top or side emergency exit, if provided. Sometimes they are successful — and other times they end up becoming pinned between the car and hoistway wall or counterweight, falling down the hoistway or otherwise getting injured or even killed.
If the incident is of an emergency nature (if passengers are injured, seriously ill or endangered by fire or smoke) and the elevator rescue team (ERT) must work atop the elevator car in order to rescue them, certain hazards could be encountered. These include:
- Unprotected space between car and hoistway walls
- Counterweight assembly
- Hot light bulb
- Slippery surface
- Objects projecting from hoistway wall(s)
- Moving parts
- Falling objects
Because of these dangers, the ERT must address four major safety areas at every incident. These include passenger safety, ERT safety, protecting hoistway opening and preventing movement of the elevator. Failing to address any one of these areas could increase the risk of injury to passengers as well as emergency personnel.
Prevent movement of elevator
After arriving on the scene, locating the stalled elevator, notifying the elevator company (or having some other responsible person do it) and determining the need for the ERT, the main power to the stalled elevator must be shut off by a member of the ERT at the elevator machine room. As a rule, the door to the elevator machine room or pump room is locked. Locating and obtaining the key beforehand can help to eliminate a waste of time and effort.
After throwing the handle to the main disconnect panel of the stalled elevator, the panel door should be opened and the fuses checked to be sure that knife-blades have, in fact, moved away from the electric contacts. Ideally, the team member should remain there until notified that rescue operations have been completed. However, the nature of the incident and the number of available personnel may require the member to rejoin the team. If this is the case, then other suitable steps must be taken to prevent unauthorized restoring of the power.
One way is to use a lock, combination or key-operated. Obviously, the lock must be a part of the elevator rescue equipment inventory. A convenient way to store one or more locks, along with the hoistway door and car control keys, is to carry them in a small tool box (elevator kit). The combinations or keys can be taped or otherwise secured to the inside cover of the box for quick access.
Another way is to remove the fuses from the main power disconnect and hold them until rescue operations are completed. Extreme caution should be exercised when performing this task. It is recommended that fuse pullers be used to eliminate chances of the member contacting the energized portion of the panel.
A third way, although not as effective as using a lock or pulling fuses, is to use a tag. The tag should be appropriately marked and secured to the control handle of the stalled elevator’s main disconnect panel.
A preprinted tag may be more effective than an improvised one. The elevator power disconnect tag is perforated to permit quick removal of the lower section. This section is given to the officer-in-charge of the ERT. The reasoning here is that the elevator power should only be restored upon approval of the officer-in-charge. That is, the member or person who is responsible for restoring the power must have the lower section of the tag with him before he is authorized to restore the power. This tag should be used with the other procedures mentioned earlier.
It is important to note, however, that it is advisable to leave the restoring of power to an elevator mechanic. An exception would be in the case where an elevator adjacent to the stalled one is used to reach the passengers. During the period that it is stationary the power should be shut off, the same as for the stalled elevator. However, once rescue operations have been completed and the rescue elevator is no longer needed, it can be restored to service.
In addition to shutting off the power, the emergency stop switch located inside the stalled elevator should be applied. Further, if rescue operations require emergency personnel to work atop the stalled elevator, then both the emergency stop switch and inspection switches should be applied. When it comes to elevator rescue, safety can never be overemphasized.
Finally, in the unlikely event that slack is observed in the cables of an elevator (electric traction), special precautions (such as shoring) should be taken to prevent unexpected movement. Use the expertise of an elevator mechanic where possible.
Protect open hoistway
Whenever a hoistway door is opened at a floor other than the one where the elevator car is located, the opening must be protected. This precaution applies to training situations as well as actual emergencies. An unprotected opening can result in death or serious injury.
If a hoistway door must remain open for a period of time during a rescue, a short ladder, backboard or other suitable item should be placed across the opening. In addition, a member of the rescue team should be assigned to remain at the opening. When the hoistway door is closed, it should be checked to ensure that it is, in fact, locked.
Safety of the rescue team
One of the basic, important needs of the team is personal protective equipment. As a general rule, rescuers should each wear at least helmet, gloves and boots. The need for other equipment will be dictated by existing conditions.
In addition to rope, safety belts or harnesses, and one or more ladders might be needed. Under some emergency situations rescuers may have to gain access to a stalled elevator from the floor immediately above. This action may necessitate positioning a ladder atop the stalled elevator. If this is the case, a rope should be secured to each rescuer before he descends and later ascends the ladder. Close communication and coordination must be maintained to ensure proper control of the rope.
Another operation requiring the use of rope is poling. Whenever it is necessary to pole up or down to reach and unlock a hoistway door, a rope must be secured to the poler. This is especially true when poling up, since the poler must totally rely on the rope and team members for support while he is leaning into the hoistway to locate and release the hoistway door.
As a general rule of thumb, members of the rescue team should not work from an unprotected hoistway opening or from within a hoistway if the incident is not an emergency.
Another concern is the number of personnel that should be permitted atop the car at one time during an emergency. Generally, no more than three persons should work or ride atop an elevator. A note of caution: emergency personnel must not attempt to operate top-of-car controls unless they have had proper training by an elevator mechanic or other recognized authority. Failing to heed this warning could result in injury.
Safety of passengers
Passengers are safe inside a stalled elevator. It’s when they are attempting to leave or are being removed from the elevator car that they are vulnerable to injury. For this reason, it is essential to take measures to prevent movement of the elevator car and to protect the hoistway opening before an attempt is made by the ERT to remove passengers.
If possible the passengers should be removed through the entranceway. Depending on the location of the car, it may be advisable to use a ladder to assist passengers in reaching the landing. Personnel should maintain a firm hold on each passenger moving over the ladder.
If it is recommended that passengers be removed via the top emergency exit, a ladder should be placed inside the car. Also, a rope should be secured to each passenger as an added precaution. Of course, the rope must be held by rescuers as the passenger climbs the ladder. For passenger comfort, a ladder belt or safety harness could be used in conjunction with the rope.
If the top of the stalled elevator is a considerable distance below the exit landing, a second ladder will be needed. Once again, the rope must be held by rescuers while the passenger climbs this ladder. Some rescuers prefer to place a helmet on each passenger as an added precaution.
When rescuers elect to remove passengers via the side emergency exit, they should again secure a rope or safety belt to each passenger before he is transferred to the other car. In some buildings a safety plank is provided. It can be positioned to form a sturdy walkway between the stalled and in-service elevators. In any case, rescuers must maintain physical contact with each passenger during transfer to the inservice car.
Elevator rescue incidents, simple or complex, can be handled safely and efficiently as long as the four major safety concerns mentioned previously are addressed. This requires training, teamwork and awareness of the dangers attendant to elevator rescue operations.