Elevator Recall: Grill The Fire Expert

Q: Can you put the elevator recall rules into plain English?

A: There are two instances when the codes address elevator recall installations. The first is where a fire alarm system is required in the building under consideration. In this case, the fire alarm control unit will be used for recalling the elevators in addition to its fire alarm notification duties.

The second instance is where a fire alarm control panel is installed for the sole purpose of monitoring the wiring for integrity and the automatic detection requirements needed for recalling the elevator(s). In this case, the panel is permanently marked "Elevator Recall Control and Supervisory Panel." These control units do not provide occupant evacuation notification, nor are they required to be remotely monitored by your central station. Even the requirement for at least one manual pull station is exempted in 6.8.5.1.2 of NFPA 72 [2002].

The nationally accepted standard for elevator/lift/escalator safety is ANSI/ASME A17.1, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. (it will be referred to as the "elevator code" from here on.) NFPA 72 mirrors their rules to help prevent any conflicting requirements. Of course, some states/cities amend this national standard. Always check for any local or state adopted rules. These adopted safety requirements may not be part of your building code and will probably be overseen by an official Elevator Inspection Department enforcing a state Elevator Code.

The primary purpose of elevator recall is to have the elevator cars at the floor where public safety officials can use them to travel to the fire floor. The secondary purpose of elevator recall is to take them out of service so they are not used by the building occupants in the event of a fire. Public safety officials using the elevators when recall is activated will be delivered to the appropriate recall floor.

The Designated Level (floor) is the level that the fire department has designated as the best place to conduct their "fire command center" activities. It is sometimes called the Primary Level. Here, you find the voice evacuation system, and building fire safety controls (switches controlling fan and damper operations, etc.), all designed to provide the maximum time needed for evacuation and fire fighting. This level may or may not be the best floor for evacuation. The Alternate Level is the firefighters' second choice for these kinds of operations. If the fire command center is remote from any elevator lobbies, there will be a special elevator annunciator installed for the firefighters to see the status of each elevator car and where it is parked. These recall floors/levels must always be determined by the fire department, in advance.

As far as safety functions, three main fire alarm interface functions are specified by the elevator safety codes. These will require the alarm company to provide a minimum of three circuits (pairs of wires). The first of these functions is where smoke is detected in an elevator lobby, hoistway or machine room, and the elevators are recalled to either the Primary or Alternate Level in what is called Phase One Emergency Recall Operation. Two circuits, labeled Circuit #1 and Circuit #2, will be needed by the elevator contractor to accomplish this.

  • Circuit #1. If smoke is detected in the elevator lobby on the Designated Level, and then an Alternate Level must be used by the firefighters. Circuit #1 is used to recall the affected elevators to this Alternate Level. Likewise, if the elevator machine room is also located on this primary level (mostly hydraulic elevators), and then it too will be connected to Circuit #1. (All machine rooms are also connected to Circuit #3-see below.)
  • Circuit #2. If smoke is detected in the Alternate Level, or any other elevator lobby above the Designated Level, then the elevator(s) will be recalled to the Designated (Primary) Level using the pair of wires you must provided labeled as Circuit #2. Circuit #2 is permitted to be common to multiple initiating devices and different locations. Since this is not a fire alarm system, no further zoning is required.

The second safety function is where smoke is detected at the top of a hoistway, or in an elevator machine room when located above the Designated Level. These hoistway/machine room's initiating devices are to be connected to two separate circuits. Circuit #2 (see above) is still used to recall the elevators to the Primary level, plus an additional circuit (labeled Circuit #3) to provide a safety warning to the firefighters.

Phase Two operation begins when firefighters enter the building and use a special emergency elevator key to override the Phase I Recall. Phase Two operation allows them to use the recalled elevators to quickly get to and from the fire floor. Since they are going to be using recalled elevators, they will need to be warned of any smoke developing in the hoistway or of a fire that could destroy the elevator machine room. To inform them of these dangerous situations, an amendment was added to the 1998 edition of the elevator code that provides for any new or retrofitted elevators to have a firefighters helmet (hat) symbol flash red in each of the affected elevator cars served by that machine room and in all cars operating in the affected hoistway(s).

Elevator machine rooms and hoistway detectors are also required to be individually zoned/annunciated at the fire command center and at any other annunciators in the building. In some larger buildings, you will need to provide this additional circuit for each additional elevator machine room and each individual hoistway. Any additional circuits (number these starting with Circuit #4, and up) must illuminate only their related elevator car's hat symbol and also separately annunciate the location of their associated initiating device(s). Remember, all circuits labeled #3 or higher, must also activate Circuit #2.

A third safety function for emergency shutdown may be required when other local/state codes specify the sprinkling of elevator hoistways. This feature is also know as a "shunt-trip" and removes operating power to the elevator hoistway/car. To perform this shutdown, you must be able to activate an initiating device prior to the activation of a sprinkler head. A rate-of-rise heat detector with 50 foot spacing, and a temperature rating below that of the sprinkler head, is usually used. This heat detector must be located within 2 feet of each sprinkler if it is to reliably cause an elevator to immediately shut down just prior to waterflow. Additionally, if a machine room is sprinklered or if any sprinkler heads are more than two feet above the bottom of the hoistway, these must also activate the shunt-trip feature. This shunt-trip will even override Phase Two Operation

Playing Detective
Q: Smoke detectors operate with their own set of rules. Can you please touch on this subject?

A: Detector wiring must be monitored for integrity by a commercial fire alarm control panel. Smoke alarms are not permitted to be used. The detectors specified for elevator recall are system-type smoke detectors but only where their installation is permitted by the ambient conditions listed in NFPA 72. If the area is too dusty/dirty or the temperature is outside the smoke detector's listed specifications (such as below 32 deg F.) then you must use an alternate type of detection.

You do not have to install a smoke detector in a parking garage lobby. Even the 1997 edition of the elevator code changed the wording from "smoke detectors" to "automatic fire alarm initiating devices." Heat detectors are commonly used but any other appropriate initiating device is acceptable.

NFPA 13 (the 'sprinkler code') no longer requires a sprinklered hoistway that is only used for passenger elevators to have these detectors installed in them. Since the requirement for sprinklered hoistways was removed, so was the need for the smoke detectors. NFPA 72 states that you are not to install smoke detectors at the top of passenger elevator hoistways because of the increased potential for nuisance alarms and resulting disruption of elevator service. The 2002 edition of NFPA 72 also states that the AHJ is permitted to allow machine room and hoistway smoke detectors to initiate a "Supervisory Signal" instead of an alarm signal.

There is one case when you are specifically requested to use a heat detector. A "shunt-trip" has been required since the 1984 edition of ASME A 17.1. This shutdown is intended to stop the elevator prior to any sprinkler head's water spray from reaching the car's electronics, brakes or machine room equipment.

Since NFPA 72 doesn't prohibit a smoke detector in sprinklered hoistways, a smoke detector may sometimes be specified to initiate Phase One Recall to deliver any occupants to safety before this shunt-trip occurs. Since this shunt-trip has caused so much concern, some recent developments in shunt-trip controls now allow the car to travel to the safe level and open the doors before causing the car to stop all operation.

It is permitted to use a waterflow switch (without a retard delay) to perform the shunt-trip. Unwanted recalls from water surges should not be a concern since the vane- type waterflow switch is installed within only a few feet of a sprinkler head. However, the required waterflow tests and inspections can be a big problem involving elevator technician licensing/permits and personal safety.

Only the automatic detectors located in elevator lobbies, hoistways and machine rooms are permitted to initiate the recalling of elevators. In no case should an elevator be recalled by a manual pull station or by detectors located in other areas of the building.


Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio's fire alarm inspectors. You can reach Greg Kessinger at 888-910-2272; e-mail: Greg@firealarm.org; or visit his website at www.FireAlarm.org.

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