When I was a kid, I remember watching a tenant in the building I lived in open an elevator door by sticking a butterknife into that little round hole that we see on the door. I also remember, back in the day, that elevators had trap doors on the roof of the cab. Nowadays, the newer elevators have no such trapdoor nor little round hole on the interior of the cab. The idea being that in an emergency, the last thing rescuers want is elevator passengers crawling around the roof of the elevator.

I’ve never found much info about how those little round holes on the elevator door worked, though. And am curious about how a person would force open elevator doors these days.I know some of you reading this work in fields that might have some knowledge on the subject…anyone have any links to any references on how to escape or force your way into an elevator?

15 thoughts on “Elevators

  1. Most all of them still have the trap doors on the roof, just not where you can see them obviously.

    Opening the doors varies for inside and out, and by maker, so I defer to the guys from Otis, etc., and of course, the guys who always have the “keys to the city”:
    There’s also this:

  2. I was a security guard in a high rise back in the 80’s. We had a full time elevator mechanic in the building during business hours and I got to know several of them. Even got to ride on top of the car once.

    In our case (Dover elevators) the round hole (for the outer doors, there wasn’t one on the inside for these). accepted a drop key like this: https://www.elevatorkeys.com/drop-keys/universal-hoistway-door-key-aluminum-shaft-dover-style-rubber-cap
    You inserted the key, let the blade drop, then rotated it to detach the outer doors from the inner doors. Once the outer doors were opened, there was a mechanism for opening the inner doors. Or, if there was no car at that floor, opening the outer door revealed the elevator shaft. In our case, the elevators were high speed and opening the door without knowing exactly where the car was and that it was locked down was very risky. To paraphrase Dirty Harry, it would take your head clean off.

    And there was no trapdoor in the roof of the car, but there were hidden doors in the side, so another car could be brought alongside and passengers could be freed through that. But in the 7+ years I worked there, that was never used, even though we had people stuck for a long time. Once a mechanic was on site (I mostly worked 2nd shift) they would get the car to a floor and open from the mechanical room at the top of the shaft.

    Oh, and once, an elevator had a major mechanical failure and “fell”. Thing is, the counter weights outweighed the car and it fell into the top of the shaft at the 34th floor. That particular car was out of service for over 6 months while they investigated the cause and made repairs.

    But for your purposes, what might be more useful is a firekey. It allows a fireman to use the elevator once a car is in fire mode (return to the lobby, open the doors and don’t go anywhere). A fire key overrides that, but also pretty much takes over the car from normal mode. The car will no longer answer calls from the lobbies and will only stop where the passenger directs it – he controls the doors, floor selection, everything. Thing is, they use a pretty common key, and even can be bought in sets: https://www.elevatorkeys.com/key-sets/economy-fire-service-key-set

    • Why did Dirty Harry say “It would take your head clean off” the one thing we know is it would not be clean?

    • Fireman’s key won’t help with a jammed door. I used to keep a coathanger stashed above the light fixture in all the elevator cabs in my buildings, all of which were under 12 stories high. We had weekly drops of one leg in the 3 phase power, and the response time for the elevator contractor was ~ 8 hours.

  3. Having seen The Shining, I’d guess that these holes are overflow holes for the blood.

    • Thanks for the link! That was really interesting. Not that I get much of a chance to go in elevators around here (the tallest building is 3 stories), but the next time I’m in the big city, I’ll be looking at the elevator more closely.

  4. At one time I was employed in the facilities engineering department of a large medical facility. One of the other engineers demonstrated using a Bic pen or similar tool in that hole to lift up a catch. The doors would then open. He strongly cautioned me to NEVER be laughing while doing this- passengers take it the wrong way, every time.

  5. FWIW…anyone looking for a lucrative career ought to get into elevator maintenance. Big $. Every elevator must be inspected annually. Imagine a hospital…how many elevators…and the inspector cannot repair them so you have a teammate that does repairs…

    Just saying…a young person could start now and retire early if they were ambitious enough…

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