With buildings becoming taller and floor areas becoming larger, several thousand building occupants may need to be evacuated quickly and safely during an emergency, noted National Fire Protection Association’s Russ Sanders during a recent ASME symposium on elevator use in building emergencies.

“While the exit stairs will continue to be the primary egress component in the short term, finding ways to integrate the elevators into the equation will speed up the evacuation process, said Sanders, executive secretary for the NFPA’s Metro Chiefs Section, which sponsored ten firefighters’ attendance at the symposium. “Equally, if not more important, is how the elevators in these buildings can be used by first responders to safely move personnel and equipment to the upper floors during a fire or other building emergency.”

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, researchers, first responders, code organizations and the elevator industry have been working together to establish the best methods to integrate elevator use as both an egress function for occupants and as a firefighter access function.

The symposium held on December 1-2 offered a range of presentations on the progress to date of the ASME/A17 Task Groups on Use of Elevators by Firefighters and Use of Elevators for Occupant Egress. Speakers described the current requirements as well as new code changes under development that affect Elevator, Building, Life Safety, Electrical and related codes. Speakers also covered human factors, including training of the public and firefighters. NFPA Principal Life Safety Engineer Ron Coté and NFPA Senior Electrical Engineer Lee Richardson were among the group of distinguished speakers.

According to a NFPA press release, the themes at the core of this effort are expected to involve a combination of changes to codes and standards, development of new hardware components for the elevator, establishing a protocol for the occupants to follow, integrating an operating procedure for the fire department to use the elevators and reconfiguring building floor designs to accommodate these new features.

“The work of these Task Groups is by no means done,” said Coté. “In fact, 2011 is shaping up to be another active year as we look at a hazard analysis for other than fire scenarios and for more types of high-rise buildings. A great deal of information has been collected, reviewed and developed in the last six years since the inaugural symposium on this topic was held.” Major NFPA codes including NFPA 1, NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 have a number of proposed changes for the 2012 editions to reflect the latest information for both the occupant evacuation and firefighter elevators. These changes will be considered at the 2011 NFPA Conference & Expo scheduled for June 12-15 in Boston.