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5 Steps to Preplanning for Elevator Emergencies

Whether it’s a manufacturing plant for explosives or a high occupancy level such as a convalescent or nursing home, many departments spend hours preplanning for incidents at site-specific locations due to the unique nature of the establishment. Other preplanning such as the staging of gear on specific apparatus for a predetermined purpose and the creation and implementation of specific run assignments is also important. Whatever the reason, preplanning is critical to our effectiveness. In this short training article, I’ll focus on preplanning for elevator emergency responses. 


Whether you are on the job in a bustling city or a volunteer in a predominantly residential environment, the likelihood of experiencing an elevator emergency during your fire service career is high. However, the frequency of these responses can be low, and the majority may not be considered actual emergencies. That said, if a trapped or stuck occupant isn’t ill, injured, or on the verge of falling to their death, we must still professionally and safely remove them from their predicament as swiftly as possible without causing additional harm or damage to the elevator and its associated parts and machinery.

Conducting the following 5 pre-planning steps with your department will better prepare everyone when being dispatched to an elevator emergency in your first due response area.

Location Identification: Identifying the structures (residential, commercial, assembly, etc.) that are equipped with elevators is the first step needed for a successful outcome. With this information gathered, a comprehensive list should be created and placed in all apparatus assigned to respond to elevator emergencies.  List the address, occupancy type, location of elevator car, number of floors, location of machine room, and a point of contact for the property and/or elevator. The following is an example to better illustrate the identification step:

                  Bayside High School                             45 Lubbers Lane                      #4 Floors

                  Car Location: North side, Center

                  Machine Room: Roof, North side Center

                  Contact: Richard Belding (555)867-5309

Elevator Identification: Knowing what you are working with prior to the incident will better prepare you for determining the level of training, personnel, and tools/equipment you will need. Determining whether or not the elevator works off of cables, hydraulics, or counterweights as well as if it is a freight or passenger elevator will steer the Standard Operating Guideline (SOG) that gets implemented after preplanning is complete.


Keys: Access and Control: All personnel need to be well-versed in the variety of keys that will be needed to open elevator car doors. As part of the preplanning and training curriculum, firefighters should acclimate themselves with these keys by opening the door(s) to the elevators as well as taking control of the elevator. In some circumstances, the elevator could have a specific key that needs to be provided by the manufacturer or installer. For each key obtained, label the keys based on which address or elevator they can be used to manually open the car doors.


Standard Operating Guideline (SOG): Once you have gathered all of your information, it is critical to develop and implement an SOG. In addition to the procedures to be used, the SOG should also dictate what apparatus is to respond, in what order, and what level of staffing should respond. For example, if a trapped/stuck occupant is displaying signs and symptoms of a medical emergency, an ambulance should be added to the assignment.

Tool Cache: All apparatus that may respond to elevator emergencies should be equipped with a specific cache of tools and equipment necessary to perform an elevator rescue. Common tools and equipment includes: Elevator keys, lockout/tag out kits, ladders, air bags, irons, rope/rigging, and harnesses. The tools and equipment carried and used in your department may vary somewhat because they must fit the needs of the elevators in your first due response area.

Like any other aspect of our job, your education and experience will ultimately provide a positive outcome to the situation. Being prepared and proficient prior to being needed for an elevator emergency is the key to success for all types of elevator emergencies.



AB Turenne is a 22-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level II Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community.

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