High-rise buildings and the use of elevators during a fire

High-rise buildings have garnered significant attention in the fire safety world over the years. Because of the nature of high-rise buildings, a great number of people have to travel great vertical distances on the stairs to evacuate in an emergency. Historically, it has been said that occupants should never use an elevator during a fire or similar building emergency. However, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, this position was reevaluated.

Some buildings are better equipped with elevators intended for use during an emergency. These types of elevators will be clearly marked that they are safe to use in the event of an emergency.

Elevators that meet section 7.14 of the Life Safety Code© may be used for occupant evacuation. However, it is never required. Where elevators are used for occupant egress, the elevator shall not count as one of the required means of egress, it shall not be included in determining the capacity of the means of egress, and it shall not be used to satisfy the arrangement of means of egress requirements.  There are numerous other requirements that must be met in order to use an elevator for occupant evacuation during a fire or similar emergency including, but not limited to, marking of the elevator, building fire alarm requirements, building sprinkler system requirements, and two-way communication systems in the elevator lobby.  Regardless of what occupancy type the elevator is in, the requirements can be found in section 7.14. 

NFPA's High-rise Apartment and Condominium Safety tip sheet covers how to escape during an emergency based on various scenarios.

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