Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Proper protocol

By Glenn Zolnierczyk   

Features editors pick

Glenn Zolnierczyk, president and CEO of ESI Elevator Solution Inc. and ESI Elevator Rescue.

A common question I get asked during my elevator rescue training seminars is, “Can we, as firefighters or first responders, use the elevator(s) under a fire condition?”

We are told from a very young age to never use an elevator if the building alarm bells are ringing.

It’s also hard to ignore the plaques located in most elevator lobbies that read, “In case of fire do not use the elevator. Use stairways.”

Wow. Have times, and codes, changed.


The elevator Firefighters’ Emergency Operation (FEO) was first introduced in 1973. It supplemented the earlier A17.1 – 1971 elevator code and, since that time, has gone through many code revisions. The main objective was to keep first responders safe when elevators are used during firefighting and evacuation situations.

FEO can be separated into two operational phases:

  • Phase 1 – Emergency Recall which exists to protect the occupants of a building. If people are in an elevator when a Fire Alarm Initiating Device (FAID) activates, the elevator will automatically move to a safe floor, away from the fire, and shut down with the doors open. The elevator will then remain unavailable for normal use until it is reset. Under Phase I recall, elevators are recalled manually or automatically.
  • Phase II – Emergency In-car Operation which allows firefighters to use an elevator during fire operations by maintaining control from inside the elevator car.

An FAID is usually a smoke detector, heat detector or manual red pull station. Under new code requirements, alarm devices which are triggered, but not in proximity to an elevator, will not cause the emergency recall to initiate.

Proper elevator operation during recall:

  • An elevator in motion will stop and travel directly to the designated recall level.
  • An elevator which is designated “attendant operation” will remain so (code blue, hospital service) until the elevator is removed from “attendant operation.”
  • The audible indicator should remain ON until the elevator reaches the designated level.
  • The visual indicator will remain on (or blinking) until the elevator is reset.

Proper elevator operation during Phase II operation

  • This is when the firefighter takes control of the elevator from inside the car.

Things to check to ensure proper operation:

  • Any security systems built into the elevator shall be overridden by Phase II operation.
  • When arriving at a landing, the doors should NOT automatically open.
  • Operation of the elevators doors is by the DOOR OPEN and DOOR CLOSE buttons.

When finished using the elevator(s) under a fire or emergency condition and you want to turn the elevator(s) back to normal building operation, turn the Phase II key back to the “OFF” position.

  • The elevator will automatically return to the designated level.

To remove the elevator(s) from Phase I Recall Operation:

  • All FAIDS must be cleared.
  • The auxiliary Phase I key switch (if previously activated) must be in the OFF position.
  • The Phase I key switch must be turned momentarily to the RESET position and to the OFF positions.

Since the introduction of these operational phases into elevator fire emergency operations, much has changed. It is important to practice using FEO elevators under various conditions.

You’ll be surprised how easy they are to use. Proper use of an elevator can allow your team to effortlessly move heavy equipment to the upper floors of a building, leaving your team with more energy to handle a stressful call.

Click here for more information on elevator rescue training for first responders.

Glenn Zolnierczyk is president and CEO of ESI Elevator Solution Inc. and ESI Elevator Rescue. He is a certified elevator inspector and member of the B.C. Fire Training Officers Association. Contact Glenn at

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