First responder: people stuck in an elevator

Within Netherlands each company is by law required to have first responders. These handle various situations until the professionals arrive. It’s usually one of (possible) fire, medical or an evacuation. Normally I’d post this at Google+ but as that’s going away I’m putting the details on this blog. I prefer writing it down so later on I still can read the details.

Around one week ago I was early in the office. I noticed a security person and someone from the facility company taking an elevator. Unusual, but it might be something they do every day in the morning. Ignored it and swapped my sweaty clothes (cycling).

When I finally arrived near my desk I heard sounds coming from my walkie talkie. Once closer, I overheard communication regarding people stuck in an elevator. Head of security mentions he’s about to turn off the power to the elevator (this normally opens the doors). Turning off the power is what’s done after various other checks. As I do not want to miss any incident I asked for the floor number; it’s one floor down. I expect to arrive after everything is over.

I arrived near the elevator and the people weren’t rescued. This as the doors refused to open. An elevator has various safety systems; basically in case it’s exactly on a floor turning off the power results in opened doors. This method we’ve used various times to rescue people. Another option is to override (part of) the safety system by use of an elevator key (these keys can differ per elevator). Using the key is a bit tricky; you need to use the right amount of force else it doesn’t work. As the doors do not open we try a few things: Turn power back on and the left doors opens maybe 5cm (when pressing doors open button), right door doesn’t move. Turn power back off and then use the elevator key results in a gap of less than 1cm.

There are two people within the elevator whom we keep giving updates. We ask how they’re doing and the response indicates they’re not worried at all. In case they’re anxious we’d call the fire brigade (closest one is a 6 minute non-priority drive away). As the people are relaxed we opt for the elevator maintenance company. They estimate it’ll take around 20-30 minutes for them to arrive. We get some guidance via phone; basically everything we tried already plus one thing we do not want to do. Meanwhile someone from an auto repair shop also arrives. Apparently he needs to get the car keys from someone in the elevator. I give the car mechanic some coffee and tell him to make himself comfortable. He’s quite enjoying himself and mentions that the office is way nicer than anything he’s been to before!

Eventually the elevator mechanic arrives. He mentions he’ll go up and sort it out. I thought he meant up to the maintenance room but he really meant to physically go on top of the elevator. My first thought that this is really unsafe, followed by “he’s an elevator mechanic and knows what he’s doing”. He moves the elevator to another floor and the doors open. After that he figures out the problem; one of the outside doors is stuck in a rail. He fixes this and then double checks what the elevator reported as reason for going into failsafe mode.

The causes matches with what we observed. The elevator key is on the outside door on the right. The only door which opened was on the left. There’s all kinds of interactions between the outside and the inside doors (due to safety). Only on that floor one of the outside doors had an issue. The inside doors (which move with the elevator) didn’t have any issue. Explaining this it’s quite easy. However, we were quite stumped. We used to actually do more to get a person out. E.g. manually move the elevator. We stopped doing this because despite knowing exactly what to do (elevator company gave thorough explanation) as there’s no guarantee that we won’t be held responsible in case something bad happens. Unless there’s a safety reason we will not do more than power / elevator key methods.

Back at my desk I mentioned that we got two people out of an stuck elevator. My colleague turned white and took the stairs for the rest of the day.