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Typical Elevator


What To Do When Your Elevator Crashes


Richard L. Servis Jr.



     Have you ever noticed the atmosphere of tension among fellow elevator passengers?  Have you ever felt a bump while on an elevator that caused you concern?  Have you ever met someone who absolutely refused to ride an elevator?  There are some people who won't visit an office in a building with more than three floors.  Some will climb any number of stairs rather than use an elevator.

Let's examine why.  


     One gentleman had a bonifide excuse.  While standing in front of two elevators he asked timidly, "How else can I get to the third floor?  I had some bad experiences in the tank corps during World War II, and I can't tolerate being inside small enclosures".  


     It seems strange that the greatest number of people who are afraid of elevators haven't so much as stubbed a toe entering or leaving.  Many have a feeling they'll get stuck on an elevator and miss a once-in-a-lifetime deal for being late.  Some fear they'll use up all their  oxygen and suffocate.  (An impossibility).  A few envision a fellow passenger having a heart attack, and possibly dying in there with them.  Pregnant women who have seen T.V. and movie scenes of women giving birth on stuck elevators sometimes refuse to ride on elevators.  Some people are afraid their loved ones won't know where they are and will worry needlessly.  Some have had friends who were stuck in elevators, and described their fears too vividly.


     With movies and television showing elevators breaking cables and falling several stories to the ground, one can easily be convinced of the danger.  Criminals are shown severing the cables with a fire axe, or shooting the cable in half with bullets.  What is the likelihood of such tragic events taking place?  Probably none!


     We can establish the true safety of elevators by learnig the two basic methods of elevator operation, and the built-in safety features.  The state laws also make your ride safer.


     Most state laws make it illegal for building superintendents,  maintenancemen, or custodians to make repairs on elevators.  They are allowed to remove ceiling light lenses for cleaning, or to replace light bulbs or florescent tubes.  They are allowed to shut down an elevator for cleaning or as a safety measure for a malfunctioning system.  Elevator equipment rooms are required to be kept locked at all times, except during servicing. Inspections are made periodically by an official state elevator inspector.  Every elevator must have a permit, permanently mounted inside every elevator.   The inspector's signature and date of inpection appears on every permit.  Once a year the elevator repair contractor must literally load each elevator with the weight capacity shown inside the elevator "car.", usually with lead weights.  Next, the contractor must document the effectiveness of the automatic braking device or devices of a runaway car.  Failure to meet the test means the elevator in question cannot be used until repairs are completed. 


     What are some of the other safety devices in elevators?  One is that the car must have a red panic button for passengers, in the event the elevator stops between floors, or the doors fail to open automatically.  The panic button must ring a very audible bell so building occupants are aware of an elevator problem.  (Most building occupants wait to hear at least two rings before investigating, to allow for accidental punching of buttons).  


     A special key often enclosed in a glass case outside the elevator is used for rescuing trapped passengers.  In some buildings it may not be required if a qualified person is on the premises 24 hours per day.  


     Some elevators have a "hatch" in the ceiling of the car for emergency rescue.  The hatch is required by law to be latched from outside the roof of the car, to prevent idiots from climbing out onto the top of the car and killing themselves.  Movies and T.V. like to show bad guys and good guys using the hatch.  Not so!  Other elevators are equipped with side panels, allowing side-to-side rescue of trapped passengers.  Use of the hatches and panels is seldom necessary.  Scenes of people manually pulling the elevator doors open is also a fantasy of movies and T.V.  Very few, if any, elevator doors can be opened by sheer brute strength. 


     Another safety device is the follow-up cable used in cable operated elevators.  It's called a "Governor Safety Cable."In the event of overspeed, such as a runaway car, the cable causes braking shoes to be clamped tightly to the elevator's guiderails, stopping the car.  Simultaneously, a lock-out circuit electrically shuts down the faulty elevator.  


     Most people have never seen the elevator "pit."  Installed in pits beneath most cable driven elevators are enormous sized springs to act as shock absorbers.  On the remotest chance an elevator bottomed out, the springs would absorb most of the impact.


     In recent years the elevator buttons are labeled in Braille for the blind.  Some elevators use a voice announcing the floors reached.


     Many of the newer elevator installations are likely to be hydraulically operated.  The panic button and emergency rescue hatches or panels are much the same as cable-driven cars.  Few, if any cables are used, and the equipment rooms need not be located above the elevator shaft.  In fact, the equipment room may be in a separate building.  A hydraulic elevator works much like a hydraulic lift found in automobile repair garages.  Two differences are that an elevator support shaft is telescopic in its operation, and has different safety controls.  For the elevator to fall, it would have to break a ydraulic line, or receive a puncture in its main shaft.  The "fall" could only be a slow "sinking" sensation, with little or no impact on bottoming.  To literally "fall", the shaft would have to be severed in half.  Perhaps an airplane flying into the building could cause such a break.  Such an accident could happen in any part of a building which shouldn't justify fear of elevators.  


     Now that most of the fears of crashing have been eliminated, what is left to fear but fear itself?  (Always a good quote).  Being trapped in a stalled elevator can be sufficient cause for stress with some people.  Certain individuals suffer from the feeling of just being totally alone--as if the entire world walked off and left them.  Claustrophobia is probably the most serious problem to deal with, both for the individual, and for those trying to help.  Trapped "victims" often start pressing the panic button and won't stop, disrupting the activity of of the entire building   Others beat on the doors to the point of hurting themselves.  Some begin screaming so loudly they cannot hear the voices of their rescuers.  Some are found crouched in the corner of the car in a near form of shock. 


     What should you do to help someone trapped in an elevator?

First learn what not to do.  Don't do something foolish, such as finding a crowbar, or sticking pens or pencils in the keyhole designed for the elevator rescue key.  Secondly, don't run up and down the hallways yelling, "Help, there's someone stuck on the elevator!"


Here are a few things you can do to help:  


- Let them know you plan to stay with them.

- Try to remain outside the elevator, and commandeer the aid of a passerby to  make phone calls or locate assistance.

- Talk to the person in the elevator.  It will help them take their   mind off the problem.  Keep them talking!

- Ask them if there is a panel marked "phone."  If so, tell them to try using it.  It will either connect them with a direct line to the elevator contracting firm, an in-house switchboard operator who can find help, or a regular telephone operator who will notify local authorities of the problem.

- Ask if someone is expecting them somewhere, and volunteer to make a phone call for them.  Repeat the number to them to assure them you got it right.  Inform them you reached their party.  If you didn't, ask if there's another person they want called.  Some trapped passengers are more concerned about their friends and relatives worrying, than they are about themselves.

- Lead them to believe help is only minutes away.  In most  cases it is.

- Discourage other bystanders from making foolish rescue attempts  Caution bystanders not to ask negative leading questions such as,  "Is it getting hot in there?" "You're not scared are you?", or,  "Are you all right in there?"

- When rescuers are about to free the person, try to get others  to leave the area.  Sometimes, the person is so ashamed of their behavior, that facing a crowd of witnesses is more than they can tolerate.  It's best if only the helpful person and the rescuers are present upon their release. They may want  to thank their rescuers, or check to see if you made the phone calls you promised. They may want to make some  important phone calls, but they're to nervous to fumble for quarters.  Offer them the use of a nearby phone.  Sometimes a drink of water helps their nerves.


     They may choose to make a hasty exit from the building without looking at anyone.  Don't be offended--it sometimes happens.


     If you're still convinced your elevator will crash, what can you do to save yourself?


     Tilt your head ever so slightly forward, away from any wall, firmly grasp any handrail, make sure your knees are slightly bent, then close your eyes.  Try not to be alarmed when..............  

                                           NOTHING HAPPENS! 




Approx. 1623 words

Copyright 1993, by Richard L. Servis Jr. 



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