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US skyscrapers to use lifts as fire escapes

Fireproof lifts can be used as alternative means of escape from tall buildings blazes in the United States, the International Code Council (ICC) ruled last week.

The ICC ruling was a compromise. It attempts to reconcile calls from the US National Institute of Standards & Technology for extra stairwells in buildings over 128m. Other groups had lobbied for lifts to be used as fire escape vehicles.

ICC standards are not mandatory in the US, but many state and county authorities use them in local building codes.

Allowing robust elevators that withstand fire to act as an escape means the space and cost constraints of an extra staircase can be avoided while speeding up evacuation times.

Engineers welcomed the compromise.
"It’s something fire engineers want to see as it assists with evacuation and with a large amount of people, a reduction in evacuation times leads to a big improvement in safety," said associate director and technical leader of Arup Fire Barbara Lane.

If this route is taken, then all lifts in tall buildings will need to be fireproofed, said Lane, who said that using lifts in fire evacuation was slowly becoming more commonplace.

"It’s not difficult to have firefighting lifts, it’s about emergency power and specific detailing around the door to prevent smoke ingress," she said.

"We have lifts for firefighting in the UK, but it’s not done yet for firefighters in the US. In the last few years we’ve worked on projects over the world where the lift is used as a means of evacuation when using performance-based design techniques."

Code changes will take effect in the revised international-2009 codes.

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