Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Keeping up with demand: How to take elevator training to the top

By Domenic Guaragna   

Features Specialized Training

In January 2016, I was tasked to  update the Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service (VFRS) standard operating guideline (SOG) for elevator rescue and creating a training program.

Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service in Ontario responded to 94 elevator-rescue calls in 2016 and 74 in 2015. The elevator-door prop commissioned by VFRS is custom designed. As communities grow

As the City of Vaughan ­– a community of more than 320,000 people north of Toronto – grows vertically, VFRS needs to improve elevator rescue skills to ensure we provide premium customer service.

VFRS responded to 94 elevator-rescue calls in 2016 and 74 in 2015. These types of rescues will increase as a multi-use, high-density urban corridor is developed that will include two 50-storey towers adjacent to the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.   

I began by asking questions: What was ineffective about our current elevator program? How much money/time will this program require? Which Technical Standards & Safety Authority-accredited elevator-training provider would best suit our needs? How many shift training instructors would it take to successfully roll out a program to reach our 300 firefighters? How could I create a SOG that our fire service can grow into and will last for at least 10 years? How could I make the training user friendly while holding the attention of firefighters?        

My first task was to source the right company to train 16 firefighters as shift leaders and choose a training provider.


The two-day course took place in March 2016 at our training division. The first day was predominantly theory and addressed the use of the elevator props. The second day was all hands-on training, divided evenly between hydraulic and traction elevators. We had access to a hydraulic elevator at a local community centre and a traction elevator at a 20-storey residential building. The hands-on component was the most engaging and the best way for firefighters to validate the techniques we were shown the previous day; we were able to see how a safe elevator rescue should flow. Having an elevator prop and a strong PowerPoint isn’t enough: firefighters must train on elevators to hone their skills.

The elevator-door prop
Once the training was complete it was clear that VFRS needed to purchase its own elevator prop. I visited Toronto Fire Services, Barrie Fire and Emergency Service and Durham College’s elevating devices mechanic program to see elevator props. All roads led to an elevator parts supplier that carries props made in New York state then shipped to Mississauga for pick up. Note: if you call to enquire, refer to the elevator prop as an “elevator stand.”

SOG revisions
I began to revise our SOG after the prop was ordered. I got elevator SOGs from six departments. I took into consideration what I learned in the elevator course and, combined with the feedback from our shift training instructors, the foundation and vision for our new SOG was laid. I took this vision to our joint health and safety committee members, administration, platoon chiefs, district chiefs, and firefighters. After editing the proposed  guideline, it was finally complete. I was sure to follow all the guidelines and lessons from the training provider, the Ministry of Labour Section 21 Guidance Note #6-32, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Emergency Guide Manual A17.4-2015, and case studies provided by TSSA.

SOG highlights
Level 1 (stand by and wait for an elevator mechanic) versus Level 2 (rescue).

Crews can remain on scene in Level 1 mode for up to 30 minutes waiting for an elevator mechanic if the occupant(s) is not in distress. After 30 minutes we open the door and never leave the scene until the occupant is out.  Crews can respond non-emergency if it is confirmed by the communications operator that the occupant(s) is not in distress. If the company officer perceives distress or doesn’t have enough information to confirm the absence of distress while on scene (or en route) the crews respond emergency and get the door open ASAP. Always confirm that an elevator mechanic is en route.  

10 rules of elevator rescue

  1. Never try to repair the elevator.
  2. Never try to identify the cause of the elevator’s failure.
  3. Never turn the lobby fire service switch to recall (this will fix nothing)
  4. Never put the elevator back into service until a licensed elevator technician informs you that it is safe to do so.
  5. Never lean on the door.
  6. Never assume the elevator car is on the other side of the hall door. Don’t trust the floor indicator.
  7. Never cross the door threshold of an open hoistway with any body part (shearing and crushing hazard)
  8. Never perform a rescue with the elevator power on or recycle the power (turning the power on and off to “reset” elevator is not safe)
  9. Never isolate the power unless your eyes are on the sheave confirming that there is no yo-yoing (not applicable with a MRL)
  10. Never turn off the power at the disconnect switch without full PPE;always follow lock out tag out procedures.

Door-opening techniques
Knowing the names of the major door locking mechanisms is critical: beak, beak housing, linkage bar, door rollers and door clutch. This familiarity  increases the chances of a smooth rescue and will reduce or eliminate confusion.

Drop-key method

  • This is by far the most user-friendly option
  • Drop keys can be found on the first two floors of a building that was built prior to 2007 and on every floor after 2007.

The hook method

  • This is by far the most challenging option
  • The hook or the wire, as we call it, is used on an elevator door that doesn’t have a drop-key slot.
  • The hook is inserted at the top of the elevator hall door on the strike jamb side to lift up the linkage bar, which then releases the beak from its housing.

Hockey-stick method

  • This method is new to VFRS and the feedback has been positive
  • Where possible the firefighters can hold an adjacent elevator with the doors open and use a hockey stick (or broom handle) through the hoistway to release the beak from the beak housing by either activating the door rollers or aiming for the linkage bar.

The consequences of an unco-ordinated elevator rescue are the same as any other failed rescue: death or catastrophic injury to the rescuer or patient.

Training Officer Domenic Guaragna has been with VFRS since 2002 and full time since 2008. Contact him at

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