What Makes A High-Rise Building Fire Fighter Lift?

fire fighter lift

Mechanical lifts are invaluable to Fire Service personnel, before considering a firefighter lift it is important that their design and construction is understood. Having an informed understanding, an accurate risk assessment can be completed. Lifts are an essential element in modern high-rise buildings. Lifts are regarded as the safest form of vehicular transport in the world. The UK abides by strict design safety requirements following British standards or more recently European Standards.

Primary standards BS-EN81 and BS5655 was approved by CEN in 1998 and were optional until 1st July 1999 when it replaced the existing standards.
The EN81 group of standards has been expanded to cover other related topics such as;

  • EN81-21: New passenger and goods lift in existing buildings.
  • EN81-28: Remote alarm on passenger and goods passenger lifts.
  • EN81-70: Accessibility to lifts for persons including persons with disability.
  • EN81-71: Vandal resistant lifts.
  • EN81-72: Firefighting lifts
  • EN81-73: Behaviour of lifts in the event of a fire.
  • EN81-80: Safety rules for the construction and installation of lifts

Many of the UKs High Rise Buildings will have been built prior to EN81 and even before BS5655 and its predecessor BS2655 (from the early seventies). Before BS-CP3 and BS2655, lift design was a matter for architects, building design approval, and customer requirements. There were some standards and guidelines available but not in the format of nationally approved specifications.  Many high-rise tower blocks in the UK pre-date any nationally approved standard. This needs to be considered in future developments of existing buildings and a key understanding is required to ensure safety and compliance.

Before we establish a firefighter lift lets break down a non-fire fighter lift for a clear more informed understanding.

Lift Design

Lift systems in the UK have several safety devices, including overload detectors, Door close protection sensors, Emergency lighting, Emergency communication equipment / Alarm buttons. Floor level detection, Smoke detection, and buffer stops.
They do not have Emergency stop buttons in the lift car but usually have them available to lift engineers. They may be located either in the shaft, on the roof of the car, in the motor room, or within the car by use of a special key switch. You may have seen a film with a passenger lift plummeting down the lift shaft crashing to the ground, this simply is a fabrication and is not possible, passenger lifts in the UK (designed to carry people) are “safety lifts” with, built-in fail-safes to stop uncontrolled descent should there be a failure of the cable or the winding mechanism. That said, most modern lifts may have 2, 3 or even 4 levels of failure backup.

Lift Motor Room

A lifts motor room where possible is always located at the top of the building (especially in High Rise buildings). It should always be locked and have restricted access. Encompassing the motors and winding gears for each lift shaft and includes the lift control system and provides isolation for electrics and hand winding.

The Lift Shaft

Normally an interrupted vertical shaft covering the entire height of the building, remaining sealed due to being a significant fall hazard. Inside the shaft are a set of guide rails for each lift car and for the counterweight system. The steel cables that move the lift car will be in the shaft under tension. Control cables will hang from the lift car up to the motor room. In more modern designs the shaft has fire-resistant properties, however, there is little to no smoke control provided by the shaft or at the carriage and landing doors. Many high-rise tower blocks in the UK have two lift cars. This provides a layer of redundancy and they service alternate floors.

The Lift Car

Often a box-shaped design consisting of a metal enclosure built up in the lift platform. One side is home to lift carriage doors, although options are available for multiple doors on different sides of the lift car. The ceiling is closed and contains lights. In the UK no access is available out of the lift car as standard into the lift shaft. Except in designated Fire-fighter lifts! The lift car will have a way of selecting which floor is required, floor indication, emergency lighting, and a plate communicating the safe working load of the lift. In both kg and max person capacity.

Lift Doors

Usually automatic and are made from metal, controlled by a motor on top of the lift carriage, when promoted the motor opens both the inner car and outer lobby doors simultaneously. Lobby doors have a manual over-ride system to enable Maintenance staff and fire-fighters to open the doors, usually using a secure key (Budget, Crescent, triangle, Drop-keys). The carriage doors can be opened manually by operating the mechanism at the top of the lift. There are many different manual over-ride systems for lift doors.
Nearly all lift doors in the UK are fire-resisting BUT do not contain any smoke seal systems.

stadard lift shaft nd lift car

Lift Controls

Lifts are controlled by the Lift control system. Originally this was a series of relay/switching systems, but much more common now is computer /Microprocessor controlled systems that can apply complex algorithms/programs to ensure best use of the lift. Simplistically at each set of doors there is a lift call button. Pressing this button will instruct the lift control system to send the lift to that floor. Inside the Lift car the occupant selects which floor they wish to proceed to.  The lift will then ascend / descend to the selected floor. From this, there are many variations available including lift call UP or DOWN selection buttons. Restricted floor access and door close / door open request buttons.
Microprocessor Lift control system
An important point to notice is that there are no standard international conventions on floor numbering and identification of the ground or lobby floors. In the UK it is standard practice to label the Ground floor as “Ground floor”, GF or Zero. Floors are numbered 1,2,3 etc for each floor above it. Basement floors are numbered B1, B2, B3 away from the ground floor.

ikonic lifts firefighter control operating pannel

The Fireman’s Switch (lift over-ride switch)

One of the earliest safety control features introduced for emergency use was the fireman’s switch. Basically, a switch (usually at lobby/entrance or ground floor level) that can be operated by the fire service to give them some additional control over one or more of the lifts. Activating the switch may be via a break glass, Crescent switch, Yale keyswitch, triangle key, budget key, but is now most commonly via a drop key. Because the use of these over-ride systems has evolved over many years their actions can vary from building to building. The most common effect is to over-ride all floor calling, to return the lift to the floor where the Fireman’s switch is, then to open the doors and the doors remain open. Control of the lift is purely through the lift car buttons and pressure must remain on the button during operation.

firemans switch lift override switch

So What Makes a Lift A Firefighter Lift?

The most dangerous misunderstanding iKONIC Lifts have come across, amongst many firefighters over the years, is that a lift with ” Fire service over-rides” are Firefighting lifts, they certainly ARE NOT!

The most common reason for this belief is the fireman’s switch (lift override switch) one of the earliest control features, located in the lobby/entrance or at ground floor level, that can be utilised by the fire service. This can be used by breaking glass, a crescent switch, yale key switch, etc today is most commonly via a drop key. The most common effect is to over-ride all floor calling, to return the lift to the floor where the fireman’s switch is located, then to open the doors and for them to remain open.

iKONIC Lifts cannot stress enough, unless specifically designed, and compliant a lift is NOT a Fire Fighter Lift! A very specific design is required with many additional built-in safety features. The design standards for fire fighting lifts are covered in EN81-72 and the general requirements are as follows:

  • The minimum size is 8 persons (630 kg)
  • 1100mm wide x 1400mm deep
  • or For Evacuation, 13-person 1100mm x 2100mm
  • Doors 800mm wide Minimum
  • Reach the furthest floor from FSAL in 60 seconds. up to 200m travel.
  • Built-in Water protection
  • Escape hatch and ladder
  • A communication system between the lift car and the FSAL.
  • Dual/backup power supplies and shall be fire protected
  • Dedicated protected lift shaft.
  • If distance between consecutive landing doorsills exceeds 7m, intermediate emergency doors shall be provided.

When activated the lift Control system will:

  • Isolates all landing calls and cancels car calls
  • Lift car returns to FSAL and parks with doors open
  • Shaft and machine room lighting is switched on

Functionality Becomes Limited to:

  • Single call operation
  • Doors remain closed on arrival
  • Constant pressure control of doors
  • Communication device operative between Lift Car, machine room and FSAL.
fire fighter lift in hotel

An interesting point is that in EN 81-72 dated 2001-03 every floor of the building had to be in the event of a fire served. However the new European standards no longer defines the number of firefighting lifts required in a building over and above the one unit if the vertical travel is in excess of 18 meters above ground, or greater than 10 meters below ground or the entry point of the fire service, nor does it state that the lift should actively serve each floor in the event of a fire.

iKONICs Lifts Jupiter Gearless Traction Lift and Hercules Gearless Traction Lift are both designed to provide a firefighter lift solution, along with our bespoke options which can also be designed to offer a solution as a firefighter lift.

For more information contact our dedicated team and ensure you have the correct fit form and function first time on time every time!

Telephone: 0203 376 6440

iKONIC Jupiter Firefighter Lift

fire fighter lift in hotel

iKONIC Hercules Firefighter Lift

ikonic hercules firefighter lift

iKONIC Bespoke Firefighter Lift

ikonic lifts, bespoke passenger lifts