Please, Use the Fireman’s Key (Not an Ax)

Hall CallThere is as old joke about fireman’s keys in the elevator business. Basically, if someone is stuck in the elevator and 911 is called, the way firemen get people out of the elevator is with the “fireman’s key”…their ax.

For any joke to be funny there has to be some truth behind the humor. So, chances are, more than once emergency personnel have used an ax or other implement of destruction to pry someone free from a stuck elevator. It is a (sad) reality and probably happens more than it should. After all, the purpose for the call to 911 is to get someone out of a stuck elevator and not to necessarily worry about the state of the elevator doors afterward.

Part of the problem is that in some areas, fire departments do not have the resources to have tons of training on elevator passenger extraction and, honestly, not much opportunity to receive this training, even if the resources were available. In the area we are located in, some communities may have only one or two elevators in the whole town. That means that the possibility of rescues are extremely limited and, more often than not, the passenger is freed due to the actions of the elevator service technician long before 911 is dialed.

This also means that training is difficult to come by and is even more difficult to obtain when the elevator service company refuses to help with that training; this is an actual circumstance of a local fire department. We got a call from the fire chief asking if we could provide some rudimentary training on how to open elevator doors, extraction, and a break down of what all the keys are for.  Turns out, there is actually a fireman’s key that isn’t shaped like an ax.

The more cynical firemen believe that the rejection of training by the big elevator company may be a bit conspiratorial: bashing a door in with an ax creates the need for a new hatch, new adjustment, and new mechanisms. I take a slightly less cynical view, however: we have become aware that lots of fire departments have been turned down when they request this help, due to liability concerns.

We do try our best to accommodate the various emergency personnel, but I thought I would go over a couple things that may help in the mean time. For you building owners that don’t want your elevator door pried open with the jaws of life, especially in rural areas, I would recommend that you contact your fire department and see if they have had training. If not, let your elevator company know and ask them to schedule training on your equipment with the local department; you might have more sway towards convincing them seeing as you’re their paying customer. It could save headaches down the road.

Fireman’s basic tips that will help you deal with most problems:

  • Find the building or facility manager: You will need them to help you know what elevator is stuck if there is more than one, what floor it is near, where the machine room is and if the elevator technician has been called or in contact. Tell them the elevators will be out of service temporarily.
  • Assess the situation:  If it is not life-threatening and you have no formal training wait for the elevator company.  Give them a call to find out their ETA also they may have some real simple solutions over the phone.
  • Assure the passengers. Tell them they will not run out of air, get comfortable, stay away for the door and no smoking. Also, it is good to tell them that they are safe as elevators are designed not to fall.  Ask them to stay calm, not pry at the doors and not to look for the secret hatch in the ceiling. There is one but it only opens from the top of the car. Give them information as you get it. Most importantly tell the passengers to STAY IN THE CAB! Until told otherwise.
  • Ok the elevator company is not available right away. What then? A couple things to try. Have one crew member with communications ability to go to the machine room. Have them make sure the elevator is “On” in the machine room. Sounds crazy but sometimes if a whole building loses power or a phase of three phase power the elevator’s electricity could be tripped. If the elevator is off, turn it on. It can take a couple of minutes for the system to reset. You can also try turning the main power switch off and then restarting.
  • elevator-flame-hall-stationIf that doesn’t work, make sure the power is on. Then get the firefighter’s key from the building manager (stamped with FEOK1), one will be on site or the building manager may have one in a safe place.  Keep in mind some real old elevators do not have “Fire Service” at all so you just have to wait for the mechanic. Go to the lowest floor and look for the hall call (the elevator buttons). There should be a place to insert the key that when turned to the “on” position will automatically send the elevator cab to the lowest floor.

If this does not work then you will have to try more extensive rescue efforts that include: Turning off power to the elevator, locating the position of the stuck car, using an elevator door key to open the hatchway door (not your ax) above the stuck elevator car, lowering a ladder to the top of the elevator car if needed, opening the cab rescue hatch, lowering a ladder into the elevator car key3and then assisting the people when they exit. If you have to go this route BE SAFE! Have the crew in the machine room stay there so no one turns the power on during the rescue.

Most importantly stay safe (If you feel I’m repeating myself your right. Stay safe.) and if you have not had any specific training get some before you have to attempt the rescue.  Elevators are very safe and very reliable. But can be deadly if not handled with care especially when they are not working properly.  Here is great link with some very helpful information and here is another that has some helpful diagrams.

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New Years Resolution to Improve

Move to Finish 4In this past year, Phoenix Modular Elevator has made tremendous strides forward in its effort to provide great service locally and an alternative to stick built elevators across North America. As most of you know in 2017 we moved to a brand new facility in Mount Vernon, Illinois and that has improved our quality and speed, with elevators flying through our production process. It has also given our service team more room to grow and more capabilities as well.

Part of our growth meant we needed to add more team members that do everything from welding and drywall to elevator repair, maintenance and service. To help make our service even better we have hired a purchasing manager to assist with getting the right parts in fast. As well as new service employees to maintain elevators across our region.

But we are not satisfied with standing still. Our goal for 2017 was an ambitious 40% growth over 2016 and we have surpassed that goal. But reaching the goal did not come easy. We knew we had to be able to have the space and equipment to service and manufacture elevators that to go well above fifteen stories and to be able to produce and service elevators in larger and larger numbers. Due to our new expanded facilities and service personnel we feel we can now provide elevator service to any customer regardless of the number of elevators they have in their building or buildings throughout the region.

We remain optimistic for 2018 as we are again projecting 40% growth and to help push us further down the road, we again are building new space and adding an additional concrete apron around the facility to make dropping off materials and components easier, more efficient, and faster.

The new building will be constructed and operational by March of 2018 and will house our maintenance and service team. They are the folks that keep all of the machinery of the factory up and running but also keep elevators all over the area running smoothly. The site will be complete with a repair bay for the fork trucks and other needed large equipment as well as inventory for service repairs. This will greatly improve productivity. It will also give us the space we need to develop and maintain more production and service equipment.  We have great ideas to improve our methods and now we will have the space to make them a reality.

This is a very exciting time for Phoenix Modular Elevator and we are looking forward to a happy New Year indeed. We hope your’s is just as prosperous.

Weather Halts Construction – But Not Modular

20160105_143405We have all seen the headlines: The winter weather this year, and nearly every year, puts a damper on the construction industry and new elevator installation. Work vehicles get stuck in the snow, batteries are drained dead in equipment, and materials often have a negative reaction to sub-zero temperatures. If you are having a new stick built elevator installed, it is important to know about these delays.

Concrete is one of the materials that suffers most during construction in winter weather and it’s also one of the most common ways people build hoistways or shafts. Pouring concrete is delayed anytime it gets too cold, according to Darrell Bailey from Morton Building, a firm that specializes in metal buildings of all sorts. He has seen people try to pour concrete in bad weather with horrible results. He said, “It will freeze and bust. You just can’t pour on frozen ground,” and “that means you are stuck until things thaw out.” There are some actions that can be taken to speed up the process, such as trying to warm the ground with concrete blankets or black plastic for a few days before the pour, but the results are hard to predict.

Another option is changing the mixture by adding extra concrete mix to reduce the amount of water or by adding a chemical accelerator such as calcium chloride or other heating agent. If those procedures allow for the job to continue, you still have additional work to do and several issues to work around. The area must be protected and cured for a minimum of 3 – 7 days and you can’t move anything heavy on it or put loads on it at all. You must use blankets, black plastic, or another insulating material as it cures and sometimes you’ll have to heat it from the inside and out. But there are no guarantees that these procedures will work and, if you push it too far, the surface of the concrete can freeze and pop off and it has the potential to NEVER be as durable as if it were poured in the proper temperature.

With this most recent spate of freezing temps, most of the nation’s construction came to a screeching halt. After all, you can’t even lay CMU (concrete blocks) that has either a temperature below 20°F or contains frozen moisture, visible ice, or snow on their surface. That stops a lot of building, especially elevator hoistways.

But little of this applies in the modular building industry because the bulk of the work is completed inside of a factory away from inclement weather. With modular elevators for instance we manufacture the hoistway out of tough, durable steel and then wrap it in glass-mat sheeting on the exterior and drywall on the interior for a one or two hour fire-rating.  We do not need a CMU or concrete elevator shaft to be completed. All the while it is snowing and freezing outside, the hoistway is being built inside where it is unaffected by freezing cold temperatures. As the hoistway is being constructed, the elevator components are also being manufactured in our factory or being assembled. At the end of the assembly-line you have an elevator and hoistway all in one piece, fully assembled and ready to be delivered, swung into place, and installed. The install takes less than a week and our manufacturing lead time on standard models is eight weeks plus time to ship. Keep in mind these are quality commercial elevators that are just like any other; once they are installed, they run exactly the same as any stick-built unit, but they just take a lot less time to install and they aren’t stopped by a little cold weather, snow, or ice.

The developer, building owner or designer of the project containing an old stick built elevator will just simply have to wait for the thaw to finish the job, where the modular elevator has been completed and will be in place and ready to go in a matter of weeks. Keep this in mind when you are considering a new elevator for a retrofit project or new construction.

Avoid Feeling Trapped During Elevator Repairs

Trapped elevator Christmas, Elevator Repairs, elevator helpful list,What would you do if you learned that the elevator in your apartment building was going to be down for a month while undergoing extensive repairs or upgrades?

In an article that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peg Meier followed the life of Joann Hunt as she adapted to life on the top floor of her apartment complex while the elevator was out of service for a full 30 days right before Christmas.

Meier details the struggles for the 78 year old, active woman that could not negotiate the three flights of stairs in her living quarters. She simply lost the ability and freedom to come and go as she pleased and was left with very few options. To be completely fair, the apartment complex management offered to move her to a first floor unit during the repairs, but it lacked full cooking facilities so Ms. Hunt declined. The repairs in question (to bring the elevator up to code) were slated to take just over a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So she was stuck. What a way to bring in the holiday season!

I bring this article to mind not to indict the elevator industry, the apartment complex, or the elevator service company that was doing the repairs.  Sometimes extensive work is needed to bring the elevator up to current code and make it safer and more energy efficient.  I bring this up to remind building owners that elevators have become more than a convenience, they are essential. This need for updating and repairs can cause interruptions in the lives of those that have come to expect the swoosh of the doors and the familiar ding of the chimes.

So, we’re providing a public service announcement about what can be done to alleviate the stress that similar repairs can make on building users.

Here are some tips that can help you if you are needing some elevator repairs that will leave your tenants and visitors hoofing it up and down the stairs:

  1. Communicate effectively in advance.  Keeping people in the dark is the last thing that you want to do. There is some pain associated with giving people bad news, but that bad news hurts significantly less when a person knows the elevator will be down and for what amount of time. Let people know in advance through fliers, signs, emails, or a quick knock on each door.
  2. Find ways around the inconvenience.  In this story, the apartment complex tried to accommodate the best they could, and it was rejected, but the effort was worth it and likely made the tenant less resentful. Another way to help is to have staff available to help carry things up and down the flights of stairs, if possible. Introduce people to Amazon Prime Now or other local grocery or restaurant delivery services that will shift the stair climbing to the deliverer.  Think out of the box to help people.
  3. Update often.  Even after you have let everyone know the plan in advance, update them on the progress that is being made. People will want to know if the contractor is finishing on time, finishing late, or (even better), finishing earlier than planned.  The farther ahead they know about changes, the better they can adjust to them.
  4. Shop before you buy.  Shop for the repair not only based on the price, but also based on convenience.  Not all elevator companies are the same. Some  have the ability to offer more overtime or more personnel to get a job done more quickly.  Bid out the job to multiple companies and let them know that price and time frame for the repair will be considered in the bid award.
  5. Apologize.  A heartfelt and genuine “I’m sorry” goes a long way, so apologize for the inconvenience often to everyone that uses or wants to use the elevator and thank them for their patience during the work and after it is completed. Communicate this through the same methods and with the same amount of effort as at the beginning of the process.

In the article about Joann Hunt, she had plenty of things to do to keep her busy. She also had friends that helped her during the month-long repair.  She did a lot of meditation and maybe that did the trick, because the inconvenience did not seem to ruin her holidays in the least. However, lots of people would be angry at the notion of several trips up and down flights of stairs for their business or living space especially during the holidays.  Not to mention, 3 flights is a lot different than 7 or 10.  If you take some time to communicate clearly and shop for timeliness as well as price, people may find a little more generosity for you in their heart, especially during the holidays.

Hollywood Elevators Vs. Real Life

I ran across this from video from Mashable. Our good friends at Elevator World posted it on their blog and we thought we should share it with all of our friends. Here it is! Enjoy!

 

Feel free to check out the Elevator World blog! They have lots of great posts and are definitely worth checking out and following. If you want to know more about elevators, and Hollywood, we posted an article called “What’s on an elevator car top? Besides Bruce Willis”:  You can read it here.

What is most important to take away is that elevators are extremely safe (regardless of what you see on the big screen) when you are in the car. However, there are lots of moving parts in the hoistway or shaft and you should never venture outside the car unless instructed by emergency personnel or a qualified elevator technician.