What to do if your elevator gets stuck

You are running late for an important interview and rush into the elevator and push your desired floor button. While catching your breath and adjusting your shirt that just became untucked, you feel a lurch and a squeal. The elevator has stopped but the doors are not opening. GREAT! Just what you needed right!?


In New York City in 2015, 51 people were injured and 5 people died from elevator accidents.

Here’s what to do if you find yourself in this situation:

Push red emergency call button which is connected to a phone line and it should patch you through to an elevator maintenance representative. If this is not working, hopefully your cellphone has enough battery and service to call the building you are located in or the local fire department.

You don’t want to climb out of the top air vent of the elevator car because once you get up there, now what? You would be in serious danger if the car started to move, and you can’t climb up the elevator cables like in the movies because unlike what the movies show, these are coated with a thick layer of grease.

Don’t try and pry open the doors, they might suddenly close on your fingers and even if you were to open them and see that you were not against a solid wall and you were stuck between floors, it’s not smart to crawl out. If the elevator starts working suddenly you will be caught in between and get sliced in half.

There are many safety measures in place for modern elevators that you aren’t just going to fall randomly, you are safe if you just wait.

But… if you are stuck in there for a long time, you might have to establish a pee corner.

To avoid your chances of being stuck in an elevator, don’t enter overly crowded ones that might be reaching their weight limit. If you are already on one and a bunch of people come on, don’t be that guy that say “too full, take the next one”, just pretend that it is your floor and get off and wait till the next one.

If the elevator looks sketchy, overly old, or not maintained well, take the stairs. It’s healthier and safer anyways. If they building you work or live in has an elevator that seems to be out of order frequently or has issues, check with the building manager on when it was serviced last or check with the state and make sure it is kept up to code.

Have any of you ever been stuck on an elevator?


  • Comments (9)

    • 2

      All excellent advice, when I’m in the city I usually take the stairs or walk in preference to using the underground (subway)

      From an engineering point of view doing things like opening panels or trying to lever the doors open may actually make your rescue take even longer by causing safety issues (it may also cause expensive damage when there was only a minor fault to begin with)

    • 1

      just finding an elevator around here would be a good trick, even in the larger towns around here there is no such animal.

    • 2

      Great little write up Robert! 

      Another tip: Do not use an elevator during a fire evacuation, you surrender all control at that point. If they sense a fire, some elevators are pre-programmed to go down to the ground floor and keep the doors open to prevent people from taking them. If you happened to be in that elevator that does that and it takes you down to the ground floor and there was a fire right there, you could be facing a wall of flames when the doors open.

      If you are in a wheelchair ask for assistance for people to carry you down the stairs, if no one is around, crawl down yourself.

    • 3

      I have been stuck in an elevator twice (the same elevator each time). I just used the call button and security came and got me out so it was inconvenient but not a huge hassle or dangerous. In many buildings the call button goes to a central call center somewhere in the world, not to anyone local.  I always make sure I have my cell phone with me whenever I get on an elevator (particularly those smaller residential ones) in case, for some reason, the call button doesn’t work.  In many places zoning requires that there be a phone or call box in those elevators but when people moved from landlines to cellular, a lot of placed ripped out the landlines without realizing it would affect elevators that aren’t subject to inspections.

      The scariest elevator experience I had was at a private office building and did not involve the actual elevator. I had been working late on a Friday and when I called the elevator to leave it NEVER came (I later learned the janitor had “hard stopped” it on a lower floor while he was cleaning).  BUT, when I departed I had left my entry badge on a desk and could not get back into the main building from the elevator lobby without it. I was TRAPPED on that upper floor! There was NO way to leave the elevator lobby – security doors locked, no windows, no way to make the elevator come, no stairs.   I had a brief moment of panic: No one would be back in the building until Monday, what if there was a fire and I couldn’t get out.

      I took a deep breath and thought. I finally remembered that I knew a guy who knew a guy who worked on that floor and after a few phone calls he came and rescued me via the stairs (and gave the janitor a talking-to. Poor janitor; I’m sure he had no idea he was trapping someone upstairs).  I wrote to the health and safety officer of the building the next day and explained the problem, and they immediately installed a fire door for the elevator lobby – the kind where you press the bar for 15 seconds and an alarm sounds, but at least you can get out.  It turns out the office manager for that floor had decided to put install that fully locked door on the upper elevator lobby as a way of avoiding the expense of a receptionist, and had hired a contractor to do it without checking with the building management.  The contractor had no knowledge of fire codes etc.

      So now whenever I enter a building I check the “escape routes”!  The worst ones I come across are always in Europe in hotels built in very old buildings. Many of them are absolute death traps, and the cleaning services are forever propping open any fire doors that might exist, thus rendering them useless.  More than once I’ve asked to be moved to a different room because the one I was in was, essentially, at the top of a chimney. The hotel staff are never surprised. They know!

      • 1

        Great example of seeing an issue and doing something about it to prevent a disaster from happening! 

    • 4

      Yes I have…many times.  Same elevator.

      Worked in a office supply located in a old building that used to be a department store.  The elevator was the type seen in the old movies that required an operator to run.  Also, it required both sliding gates to be closed.

      Well, the old boy was a bit temperamental and if you didn’t handle the controls just right the circuit breakers would pop.  Which was fine if you got stuck on the first floor or close to it because the breaker panel was located in the maintenance room right next to the elevator.  You only had to be able reach the outer gate latch to get it open climb out and run down…did I mention that the store was a quarter of a city block big…to the store and get the key and open up said room, reset breakers.  If stuck in the basement level, again, no big deal just open gates climb out, run length of basement, up stairs grab key, down to maintenance room, reset, and retrace steps…remember quarter city block.

      The big problem was if it stopped dead between floors.  To get out you HAD to open the outer gate.  You only hoped that it was close enough to reach either down pass the floor or if you had to, climb up standing on the inside gate and control lever.  Down was always better, and yes I speak from experience.

      During the week it was no problem, plenty of people in the building and if we got stuck we just yelled however, on the weekends unless you had a customer you were alone.  My husband knew that if I wasn’t home by a certain time on Saturdays, and didn’t answer the store phone, to come looking. No we didn’t have cell phones then.  Fortunately I…for the most part…have always got myself out of what ever predicament I got myself into.

      Boy, you sure brought back some 32 year old memories that I had forgotten about with that question.

      Good times, I actually liked running that old beast, the other girls hated it. 😉

      • 1

        Man! That elevator sounds like quite the character itself. I like your lighthearted attitude about the whole situation though.

    • 4

      I have a family member who uses a wheelchair so if they’re with me we have no choice but to use the elevator & I don’t have many phobias but I’m always convinced the elevator will get stuck. It doesn’t help that most buildings with elevators in my town are ancient & I doubt there’s a lot of upkeep happening. This thread has a lot of good info though so thank you.

      • 1

        I also have a family member in a wheelchair and more than once we’ve come across an elevator that is too small for BOTH of us. Always, always, ALWAYS be sure there is a phone in the elevator or that the person has a cell phone with them! I’m always worried he’ll get trapped in there with no way to communicate, but at least with me on the outside I can call for help if he doesn’t arrive at the designated floor. 

    • 3

      I have not been stuck in an elevator but I know of others that have and I learned a few lessons.

      I worked in a hospital that was shutting down a very old hospital and moving into a new hospital 300 yards away. An elevator got stuck with about 12 people in it during the orientation for staff prior to opening. One was a young Army Captain that was 8 months pregnant and had to pee… She lost her cool to put it mildly.

      Lesson learned: always use the toilet before getting in an elevator if at all possible.

      Lesson learned: always have a real flashlight (high/low capable) in your bag or folio – whatever you carry. A cellphone is also obviously needed.

      Lesson learned: if you’re working in a building outside regular hours make a habit of speaking to the guards or staff at the entrance and let them know you’re working in XYZ area until a certain time. Most guards will check in on you during their rounds. If you work odd hours regularly, make a point of having a 30-60 second conversation with them so you can be on a first name basis. Aside from being a nice thing to do, it keeps you foremost in their minds when an emergency occurs.