Elevator Fire Codes Are Leaving Everyone Dazed and Confused

Imagine being stuck between floors in a dark elevator, the scent of smoke infiltrating the car. You’re pressing the emergency buttons and trying to work the phone, but there’s no response at the other end. You don’t know what to do. You cannot get a clear answer. All that’s left in the darkness is a feeling of dread as this lack of communication may cost you your life.

If this sense of confusion and fear of the unknown isn’t exactly what fire system installers are facing when trying to make sense of the various elevator fire codes, it’s not too far off.

The national codes that cover the installation of fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems in elevators were created by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These codes cover various areas of fire protection in elevator shafts, but they do not always mesh together into a rational set of regulations. As a matter of fact, at times, the codes directly conflict and could create troublesome situations in the event of a fire.

These two groups, which both update their codes every three years (the latest in 1999), have recently attempted to create more realistic codes that work in tandem. But, while these code-making bodies would like to see their mandates enforced universally, many state and local fire marshals are still intent on doing things their way, no matter what the codes prescribe. With state and federal arms of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also involved, the safety of elevator users becomes muddled while each group of regulators fights to control its own turf.

However, one state association has decided to cease the infighting by calling for a discussion of these differences. At its annual meeting in January, the California Automatic Fire Alarm Association (CAFAA) focused many of its seminar discussions on the contradictions inherent in elevator fire codes.

CAFAA members and leaders are continuing these discussions at regular local meetings, and are including local fire marshals, OSHA officials and members of code committees in an effort to find workable solutions on this hot-button issue.

Code Conflict Creates Confusion and Danger

National fire codes for elevator shafts have long been a function of such code-making entities as ASME, NFPA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which works with ASME on many of its codes.For a long period of time, these entities all worked separately in creating their own codes. This separation has created the biggest headache for installers as they try to create a safe and common-sense fire protection system for an elevator shaft.

Designing Recall and Shunt-Trip Features

The atmosphere these different codes have created calls for the utmost care in designing elevator automatic recall and shunt-trip systems. Design flaws cause most errors in elevator systems. Proper automatic recall starts with the correct placement of smoke detectors, which must be arranged to initiate the recall sequence by sending the elevator to the appropriate floor.

Past Decade Sees Code Makers Working Together

In the past 10 years, the code-making committees have finally begun working in conjunction to create codes together.

AHJs, Fire Marshals, OSHA Muddle Picture

Not only are the code makers often at odds with themselves, but local building codes, state and local fire marshals and even OSHA boards also clash with NFPA and ASME when it comes to providing clear direction for installers.

CAFAA Makes Stand for Clarification

The members of CAFAA have finally had enough of these conflicts to take up a leadership role for installers who want resolution. Beginning with a series of seminars at its January annual meeting, CAFAA members are relaying the information back to their local associations for further discussions.

Resolving of Elevator Codes Remains Far Off

Even with ASME and NFPA working together for a decade now, and CAFAA’s promotion of elevator codes as a major issue, resolution of the problems facing installers remains in the distant future.

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