The Complete Guide to Fire Service Access Elevators

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Zach Hatten, P.E.


May 21, 2024

A fire service access elevator (FSAE) is crucial in helping firefighters combat fires in high-rise buildings. In this comprehensive guide, we explore everything you need to know about these special elevators.

During the tragic events of September 11, 2001, firefighters faced immense challenges in accessing the upper floors of the World Trade Center towers due to several factors, including crowded stairwells and limited access to elevators. The occupants evacuating downwards impeded firefighters from ascending the stairs to reach the affected floors. This congestion slowed down the occupants' egress and limited the firefighters' ability to reach and combat the fires effectively.

In response to these challenges and lessons learned from the events of 9/11, there was a heightened focus on developing and implementing requirements for fire service access elevators (FSAEs). Research initiatives led by organizations such as the General Services Administration (GSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) played a crucial role in this process.

This comprehensive guide explores the different regulations surrounding these elevators. If you already know the basics, feel free to jump down to your section of interest.

What Is a Fire Service Access Elevator (FSAE)?

Why Are Fire Service Access Elevators Important?

When Do You Need a Fire Service Access Elevator?

What Are the Requirements for Installing a Fire Service Access Elevator?

What Are the Fire Service Access Elevator Lobby Requirements?

Why Should an Elevator Shutdown or "Shunt Trip" Not Be Installed?

What Is a Fire Service Access Elevator Hoistway Enclosure?

What Are the Required Fire Service Access Elevator Car Dimensions?

How Are Fire Service Access Elevators Designated?

How Often Should a Fire Service Access Elevator Be Monitored?

What Type of Electrical Power Is Needed for Fire Service Access Elevators?

Why Must Elevator Lobbies & Equipment Rooms Monitor the Presence of Heat?

What Is a Fire Service Access Elevator (FSAE)?

A fire service access elevator (FSAE) is a dedicated elevator that the fire department can use during fire emergencies in high-rise buildings. These elevators are essential because as buildings get taller, firefighting becomes more challenging. FSAEs are typically required in buildings over 120 feet tall, although locally adopted code amendments may vary.

FSAEs are accessed by a specially designed fire service access elevator lobby, which is a protected area that has one-hour fire barriers to prevent fire spread. FSAEs must stop at every floor from the ground to the highest occupied level. They must also be provided with phase 1 and phase 2 recall operations for firefighting control during high-rise fire scenarios.

It’s also important to note that FSAEs cannot be private elevators; instead, they must be main passenger elevators that meet all fire service requirements.

Why Are Fire Service Access Elevators Important?

FSAEs are crucial because they provide firefighters with a reliable and efficient means to reach upper levels during emergencies. Once they reach the designated floor, firefighters can swiftly access the stairwell and connect their hose to the standpipe system. This speed and accessibility are vital for firefighters to combat fires safely and effectively without hindering the evacuation of building occupants.

When Do You Need a Fire Service Access Elevator?

According to the International Building Code (IBC) Section 403.6.1, an FSAE is required when the occupied floor is more than 120 feet above the lowest level accessible by fire department vehicles. It's crucial to note that this measurement is based on the occupied floor level, not the building's total height.

The requirement includes having two fire service access elevators, but there can be complexities, especially in high-rise condominiums where the floor plan is divided such that one side of the building is not accessible without passing through a private unit or at all. In such cases, ensuring FSAE accessibility from every point in the building might necessitate more than just two fire service access elevators. This can lead to unique challenges in meeting the code requirements effectively.

What Are the Requirements for Installing a Fire Service Access Elevator?

An FSAE must be installed according to IBC Section 3007 and ASME A17.1/CSA B44. The key element is the elevator lobby, which must enclose the elevator in a smoke barrier with a fire-resistance rating of at least one hour. The lobby size must be a minimum of 150 square feet with dimensions no less than eight feet. This can be challenging for architects who may want to avoid “wasted lobby space” and maintain open lines of sight, but the code mandates these minimum requirements for life safety purposes. However, there may be an alternative approach to consider. 

An interesting exception is a Florida-specific allowance to the lobby requirement (2020 Florida Building Code, Building, 7th Edition, Section 3007.6). Instead of a physical lobby, Florida allows for floor-to-floor smoke control with a corridor that has a minimum width of 6 feet and 150 square feet of area. This means actively exhausting smoke on the fire floor and pressurizing the floors above and below to create a protected area for firefighter staging

So, while the elevator itself has specific dimensional and functional requirements, the lobby often poses challenges due to its mandatory design requirements and potential alternatives, like Florida's floor-to-floor smoke control exception.

What Are the Fire Service Access Elevator Lobby Requirements?

The FSAE lobby must meet specific requirements as outlined in IBC Section 3007.6. Here are the main components:

  1. Smoke Resistance: The lobby extents must be resistant to the passage of smoke, with all openings protected, typically achieved through the installation of smoke partitions with doors that automatically close.
  2. Size: The lobby should have a minimum area of 150 square feet, with no dimension shorter than eight feet. This size ensures there is adequate space for firefighters to maneuver and access equipment during emergencies.
  3. Fire Rating: The lobby must have a fire-resistance rating of at least one hour. This rating ensures the lobby can withstand fire exposure for a specified period, providing a safe environment for firefighting operations.
  4. Direct Access to Stair: The lobby must have direct access to a stairwell. This allows firefighters to quickly move between floors and access the standpipe system for firefighting operations.

In some cases, such as in Florida, exceptions or alternative approaches may be allowed to meet the smoke resistance requirements without a physical lobby.

Means of Egress Through the FSAE Lobby

IBC Section 3007.6 and 1016.2 stipulate that egress is permitted through an enclosed elevator lobby. However, this is only true when not less than one of the required exits is accessible without passing through the lobby. This means that an occupant’s only means of egress cannot traverse through an elevator lobby. 

Therefore, it's important to carefully consider the lobby's placement in relation to the building's layout to maintain proper means of egress for occupants, whether they are in residential units, office spaces or other areas within the building.

Why Should an Elevator Shutdown or “Shunt Trip” Not Be Installed?

As outlined in IBC Section 3005.5, installing shunt trip mechanisms on elevator controllers would cause the elevators to shut down in response to water from sprinklers, which is not desirable for FSAEs. These elevators need to remain operational during a fire emergency to facilitate the movement of firefighters and equipment.

Therefore, alternative methods like sloping floors away from doors, using drains, and ensuring proper door seals are recommended to prevent water from infiltrating the elevator shaft and risk damage to water-sensitive equipment.

What Is a Fire Service Access Elevator Hoistway Enclosure?

An FSAE hoistway enclosure is a protective structure specified in IBC Section 713, “Shaft Enclosures.” The hoistway enclosure is “required to protect openings and penetrations through floor/ceiling and roof/ceiling assemblies” while having a minimum fire protection rating of two hours, although different ratings may be required based on the building's characteristics.

The Importance of Lighting in FSAE Elevator Hoistway Enclosures

IBC Section 3007.5 ensures proper illumination within the hoistway during firefighting emergencies. When firefighters are actively engaged in emergency operations, the entire height of the hoistway must be illuminated to a minimum of 1 foot-candle (11 lux). This illumination is crucial as it helps firefighters navigate the building safely and efficiently during emergency procedures. If firefighters were to become trapped in an elevator car, they could self-rescue out of the top of the car’s emergency escape hatch and through the illuminated hoistway.  

Traditionally, the designated procedure without hoistway lighting involved shining a light up the hoistway to detect any signs of smoke, flames or water. This procedure is repeated every five floors until the firefighters safely reach their staging floor, which is typically two floors below the lowest reported alarm level. Proper illumination in the hoistway is essential to prevent firefighters from becoming trapped and to facilitate a swift and effective response to fire emergencies.

What Are the Required Fire Service Access Elevator Car Dimensions?

IBC Section 3002.4 mandates that at least one elevator car must be designed to accommodate an ambulance stretcher measuring 24 inches by 84 inches, with corners having a minimum radius of 5 inches in the horizontal, open position. This applies to buildings more than four stories above the ground level.

While FSAEs are often designed to meet these requirements, it's not mandatory that every elevator with these dimensions be designated as an FSAE. Other elevators in the building could also provide the necessary dimensions to accommodate ambulance stretchers.

How Are Fire Service Access Elevators Designated?

IBC Section 3007.6.5 explains the requirements for designating an FSAE. The symbol of a firefighter hat, which indicates the elevator is an FSAE, must be installed on both sides of the hoistway door frame. This is a clear and recognizable visual identifier so occupants can easily understand which elevators are intended for firefighting and rescue operations.

How Should a Fire Service Access Elevator Be Monitored?

IBC Section 3007.7 says the FSAE should be “continuously monitored at the fire command center by a standard emergency service interface system meeting the requirements of NFPA 72.” This continuous monitoring aims to enhance fire safety by enabling real-time oversight of FSAE operations, facilitating prompt response actions during fire emergencies, and ensuring the safe and efficient movement of firefighters and equipment within high-rise buildings.

What Type of Electrical Power Is Needed for Fire Service Access Elevators?

According to IBC Section 3007.8, the following features must be supplied by normal power and Type 60/Class 2/Level 1 standby power:

  • Elevator equipment
  • Elevator hoistway lighting
  • Ventilation and cooling equipment for elevator machine rooms, control rooms, machine spaces and control spaces
  • Elevator car lighting

Why Must Elevator Lobbies & Equipment Rooms Monitor the Presence of Heat?

In multi-story buildings, elevators are heavily utilized by tenants, occupants, and daily visitors to provide vertical transport to a desired floor level at the touch of a button. However, during a fire emergency the operation of elevators is overridden by Phase 1 recall. An elevator is recalled to a designated floor (typically the ground floor) and positioned for Phase 2 manual operation by a firefighter.

It is essential that continuous monitoring of temperature and smoke in elevator lobbies and machinery spaces is provided to support such emergency elevator functions. For example, if smoke is detected in the elevator lobby of the primary recall floor, the elevator will report to an alternative recall floor. Or, if smoke is detected within the hoistway, the elevator will not allow Phase 2 operation. 

Critical information regarding detection device location and status is displayed at the fire alarm annunciator panel typically located in the fire command center of high-rise buildings. In addition, elevator location and status are also displayed in the fire command center, along with smoke control panels, and two-way communication devices. The fire command center provides an incident command post to make strategic and informed fire-fighting decisions. 

NFPA 72 Section 21.5 provides guidance to streamline and simplify these monitoring requirements, ensuring that buildings with fire service access elevators have adequate fire protection measures in place to safeguard occupants from fire hazards.


FSAEs are not just elevators; they are lifelines for firefighters, enabling them to safely and swiftly reach affected floors to carry out firefighting operations without impeding building evacuations. The ongoing advancements in FSAE technology and regulations reflect a commitment to enhancing building safety and resilience in the face of fire emergencies.

By understanding and adhering to the guidelines above, you can contribute significantly to creating safer environments for occupants and enabling firefighters to perform their crucial duties effectively.

Ensure your FSAEs are up to code with code consulting from Performance Based Fire. Our team of experts includes licensed fire protection engineers, code consultants, and active fire service professionals who understand the nuances of FSAEs and the importance of a compliant system. Contact us to start the conversation.