Signage for a stairway that shows a person running down the stairs with the words In Case of Fire Do Not Use Elevator Use Stairway for Exit

“Do not use lifts if there is a fire”

Conventional passenger lifts can be very unsafe places to be during a fire. The heat of a fire can actually activate the call buttons to a level of fire and a lift shaft can develop a ‘chimney effect’ during a fire, channelling toxic fumes and smoke to upper levels of the building.[1] Statutory reinforces this with warning signage stating “Do not use lift if there is a fire”.[2]

This was not the case around the world prior to the early 1970’s when the use of passenger lifts remained active during a fire. At that time passenger lifts could allow a car full of occupants to arrive at a level of the building engulfed in flames, with tragic consequences.[3] Since then lifts have been fitted with fail-safe devices which returns the lifts to an entry level, usually the ground floor of the building.

Over the last four decades there has been a growing consensus that tall buildings must consider the use of specially designed and constructed evacuation lifts as part of the overall egress strategy of a building.  It has been widely acknowledged since the 1970’s that the use of an evacuation lift will speed up an evacuation and will provide a critical component of an accessible means of egress for those occupants with disability.[4] [5]

More recently, the use of evacuation lifts has become more commonplace and necessary as buildings have become taller. IN fact, the use of passenger lifts were extensively used in the evacuation of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks where 27% of people used a lift for part of their escape route[6] – however, this is not always the case, and in most cases, particularly in existing buildings they cannot be used during an evacuation.

[1] United States Fire Administration 1999b, FEMA 1999, FA-204/December 1999 Fire Risks for the Mobility Impaired, p.9, http://campus.server269.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/02/USFA-Fire-Risks-for-the-Mobility-Impaired.pdf, viewed 31 August 2015

[2] Australian Building Codes Board 2015, National Construction Code Series, Building Code of Australia Volume 1, Clause E3.3

[3] Allen, T 2003, Early Evacuation Elevator Operation, ASME International, pp. 1-3, http://cstools.asme.org/csconnect/FileUpload.cfm?View=yes&ID=19509, viewed 20 May 2014

[4] Klote, JH, Deal SP, Levin, B M, Groner, NE & Donoghue, EA 1993, Workshop on Elevator Use During Fires, p. 1, http://fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/fire93/PDF/f93009.pdf, viewed 31 August 2015

[5] Pauls, J, Gatfield, AJ & Juillet, E 1991, ELEVATOR USE FOR EGRESS: THE HUMAN-FACTORS PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS, pp. 64-65, http://www.nist.gov/el/disasterstudies/wtc/upload/3Pauls_R9100732_Elevator_Use_for-Egress.pdf, viewed 31 August 2015

[6] Charters, D, 2008, ‘Express Elevator’, Fire Safety Engineering, May 2008, Vol. 15 Issue 4, pp. 17-19

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Buildings need exit and emergency signs to identify parts of the accessible means of egress. An Accessible Exit Sign Project Initiative.

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