London Fire Brigade called to 12,300 lift-related incidents in 2 years – as experts stress need for proper maintenance

THE LONDON Fire Brigade (LFB) was called out to 12,321 lift-related incidents in the past two years, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

These incidents involve releasing one or more persons trapped inside a lift and include the following categories: able-bodied person not in distress, child, medical case, person in distress, no persons involved and ‘other action’.

The LFB spent the most of its time and resources attending to lift releases of able-bodied people not in distress, with 5,140 callouts in 2022, and 5,189 in 2023 – totalling 10,329.

These figures are significantly high when compared with call-out attendances in other categories. Almost 900 call-outs (448 in 2022, 446 in 2023) had ‘no persons involved’ which indicates no-one was inside the lift, or they had been released upon arrival.

Sheridan Lifts, the UK’s leading independent lift company, maintains thousands of lifts up-and-down the nation. The lift company submitted the FOI request to the LFB as part of its ongoing research into how much time and resources fire services are spending on non-urgent, lift-related call-outs.

Tony Sheridan, CEO, said ‘fire services are not lift engineers’ and has stressed the urgent need for building owners or operators, and other lift companies, to ensure the proper servicing, maintenance and repairs of lifts.

This is to avoid recurring breakdowns and wasting the time and resources of fire services.

The LFB covers 33 boroughs out of 102 fire stations. It has previously spoken publicly, on its website and in its ‘Shut in lift – attendance reduction policy’, about the need to reduce the thousands of non-urgent lift call-outs each year.

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While the LFB said all call-outs were deemed an emergency, it’s widely-known that incidents involving children, medical cases or people in distress are categorised as true emergencies by fire services.

However, these three categories total just 6.5% (796) out of the 12,321 total in the two-year period, with the most incidents in this emergency category relating to persons in distress (290 in 2022, 274 in 2023).

A call-out could also be deemed as an emergency when the person trapped can’t be contacted and-or the urgency of the situation is unclear.

As early as 2014, the LFB issued a press release on the topic of non-urgent lift call-outs, which revealed the places in the UK capital you’re most likely to get trapped in a lift.

The LFB said in the release: “We started recovering costs for non-emergency call-outs in 2009. While lift releases have decreased since the charges were introduced, the amount of call outs is still too high. Not only that but time and money is spent chasing building owners who have yet to pay their ‘shut in lifts’ bill. We’re currently owed nearly £250,000 in unpaid charges.”

The cost recovery scheme was implemented to incentivise building owners to tackle their own problem. At the time, LFB said it was attending about 5,000 non-urgent lift incidents a year – and these new figures show the problem is largely the same, almost 10 years on.

In 2022 LFB attended 5,732 call-outs for able-bodied persons not in distress, no persons involved and other action – and 5,793 in 2023.

Mr Sheridan, CEO of Sheridan Lifts, said: “When there’s a genuine emergency such as a child, someone in distress or someone suffering a medical incident stuck in a lift, fire services will attend.

“But, they’re repeatedly called out to non-emergency incidents. Getting trapped in a lift can be scary, but it’s down to engineers to attend the incident promptly and release them, and in order for this to happen building owners or operators need to be using the services of reputable lift companies who can fulfil this requirement.

“It’s down to these building owners, lift companies and engineers to ensure the proper maintenance, servicing and repairs of lifts – or consider the installation of a new lift if one is experiencing recurring issues.

“Otherwise, fire services bear the brunt of the issue, and waste their valuable time and resources which could be better spent elsewhere. Fire services are not lift engineers.

“Building owners are often reluctant to replace shoddy lifts, and can end up repeatedly repairing lifts which simply aren’t fit for purpose anymore or need more intensive repairs – this is like putting a plaster over the problem – and I encourage them to think about the consequences of doing this.”

Mr Sheridan believes some companies rely on the fire service to release people from lifts to avoid paying for lift maintenance services. He added there are also incidents in which people could be released from lifts without the assistance of an engineer or the fire service, and so building staff must be properly trained on how to do so.

In its ‘Shut in lift – attendance reduction policy’, which was created in 2009 and reviewed in 2019, the LFB said: “The Brigade is not under a duty to attend lift incidents but has the power, under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, to take action it considers appropriate if a situation is likely to cause one or more individuals to die or become injured or to provide services to any person or for any purpose that the Brigade thinks is appropriate.

“The LFB will only attend non-emergency shut in lift incidents if there is no one else available to carry out the release. It does this to prevent a situation that might cause an emergency, either from untrained people trying to make the release or to prevent a person in the lift being in danger from prolonged confinement in the lift.”