STOP, in the name of a heated discussion!
February 12, 2007 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Can you really push the "stop elevator" button without getting in trouble?

I've been wondering about this romantic-comedy cliche: can you really stop an elevator without summoning the fire department? It seems like movie characters can simply jam the "stop elevator" button, have a discussion (or a "discussion"), then continue on their merry way. Sometimes a ringing bell sounds while the elevator is stopped, but there don't seem to be any repercussions after the fact.

What REALLY happens, besides forcing other annoyed patrons to use the stairs? Is only the local control system alerted, or does it notify emergency services? Or nothing at all?
posted by nervestaple to Technology (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some buttons are hooked to the alarm, some just stop the elevator. You just have to try and see!
posted by rhizome at 9:34 PM on February 12, 2007

I can't speak for elevators in the big office buildings, and it probably differs depending on where the elevator is, but I've helped move furniture in more than one single-elevator apartment building. The sum total of what happens after pressing the stop elevator button is this: the elevator stops. End of consequence. If you keep it stopped too long, impatient people who walk up the stairs may find you holding up the elevator and yell at you, but fortunately that only happened to us once.
posted by mdevore at 9:36 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've stopped an elevator for hours at a time before. Wasn't in a big office building or anything, but it was a 4 story building on a college campus.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:02 PM on February 12, 2007

I've never heard of the fire department being called as the result of an elevator button. It might vary, but in my experience, the most that those buttons do beyond stopping the elevator is make a loud noise.
posted by bingo at 10:03 PM on February 12, 2007

Some buttons are hooked to the alarm, some just stop the elevator.

And some do nothing at all having been locked off so people don't mess around with or in.
posted by scheptech at 10:04 PM on February 12, 2007

Kinda like the rumor that if you pulled a fire alarm you got squirted with dye you couldn't clean off. I'd bet nobody does a damn thing.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:07 PM on February 12, 2007

Most elevators I see have a separate 'alarm' button.
(random googled image)
posted by blenderfish at 10:17 PM on February 12, 2007

A search for this in Google suggests that some people have triggered alarms after pushing the stop button. I'd post the links, but they reference very dangerous instructions for elevator tampering/horseplay.

Ironmouth: that would be fire station tamper dye. No kidding.
posted by acoutu at 10:21 PM on February 12, 2007


I am mildly scared of elevators, and the one in my office was making this insane grinding noise. NATURALLY, I panicked and hit the EMERGENCY STOP button, which made a really loud bell ring for quite some time. Eventually, I realized I wasn't plummeting to my death and pulled the button back out. The bell stopped ringing and the elevator continued on its way. Um, it was very embarrassing. There was no calling of the fire department, though. At most, some dude from a floor up was yelling "ARE YOU OKAY DOWN THERE?!?" down the shaft.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:29 PM on February 12, 2007

On reconsideration, now that I've green-lighted several readers' plans to use an elevator for a romantic tryst or discreet stabbing or whatever is vogue with the Hollywood set these days, I'll try to be a semi-responsible adult and tell you why "getting in trouble" is a distinct possibility with a single-shaft building.

It's not the pissed-off people, although there is a small possibility of danger there. It's not the senior citizens keeling over from a heart attack climbing to the eighth floor -- we'll avoid those movie moments for the purposes of keeping things real. It's because some people critically depend on elevators to get them to and from their floor.

I know someone who is confined to a wheelchair and at various times has lived above ground floor in three buildings. She has no muscle strength and couldn't crawl down stairs even if flames were licking around her shoes. That means if someone fools around blocking her elevator access as a prank or for whatever reason, she cannot move between floors without at least two strong people to carry her (one, if you leave behind the electric wheelchair).

The potential for getting in trouble by taking out an elevator out of service for a longish time to consummate sex, stabbing, power naps, et al, is quite real. Sure, side-effects can include death, they always can. But the real side-effects to the disabled, probable ones, include embarrassing consequences, discomfort and pain while they are separated from their destination. Not just medical consequences, but consequences with everyday trials such as appointments and transportation -- many harried public transportation drivers aren't exactly willing to wait for their pickup.

And should one cause serious suffering to a disabled person because they fooled around stopping an elevator for a while to amuse themselves, they are in trouble. The press gets hold of that human interest story, the perpetrator is going to be crucified. The legal system will deliver woe; I don't know the exact laws involved but I bet a dollar every jurisdiction in this country can hold one responsible for both a civil and criminal breach there. Then there's the lawsuits, but I hope I've made my point: You really can get in trouble pushing the "stop elevator" button.

Alright, semi-responsible lecture over. Go press the stop button in fifty different elevators and report back the results. Be interesting to see the stats on that one. If you get in trouble, I was joking.
posted by mdevore at 11:24 PM on February 12, 2007

I work as an operator a college campus, and if someone stops the elevator, it rings to the main campus phone. We can hear any and everything that goes on inside and (if we press #1) we can talk to the people inside. We're supposed to immediately call the proper personnel if this happens. Not all stop buttons are innocuous...
posted by messylissa at 12:17 AM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was young my grandmother used to live in a house with a slow moving and antiquated lift/elevator in it - unusual in the UK. As children this was a great source of fun. However it included a big red STOP button which I was reliably told would cause the lifting chain to be immediately sheared. I never pressed it.

A vaguely related question concerns what happens (or does not happen) when you press the "door close" button and whether this is a "pacifier control". Basically I think that elevator owners have considerable latitude in how they configure their systems.
posted by rongorongo at 1:48 AM on February 13, 2007

The lifts in my office building have CCTV and an audio link to security. If you hit stop then security start talking to you to make sure you're ok and can also see what you're doing.

Every so often late at night they'll randomly start talking to you anyway when you get in the lift to go home. It never fails to scare the crap out of me.
posted by patricio at 2:01 AM on February 13, 2007

mdevore FWIW, my mother can't climb down stairs at all and she lives on the 3rd floor. When they were fixing the elevator in her building, we had to stock her up on food because she couldn't leave her apartment for 2 days. So, while it makes me appear to be a a pooper of parties, I shall second your "Hey kids, don't pull any elevator hijinks for an extended period of time" lecture.
You don't want my mom to starve, do you? You... you... MOM KILLERS!
posted by miss lynnster at 4:44 AM on February 13, 2007

Some alarm only if the doors are closed, so movers and such can stop the elevator at a floor. Some don't alarm from the STOP button at all. Others will always sound an alarm.
posted by Goofyy at 6:05 AM on February 13, 2007

My darling husband is an elevator mechanic. The "stop" button may or may not work when pushed. (Technically, it's for the use of the fire department in an emergency, and should only work when a key is turned on the control panel--the keyhole with the little fire hat icon.) The "alarm" button usually connects to either the building manager, security desk, or the elevator-repair company dispatcher, who's supposed to ask you through the speaker if everything's all right.
posted by scratch at 7:04 AM on February 13, 2007

Ironmouth: "Kinda like the rumor that if you pulled a fire alarm you got squirted with dye you couldn't clean off. I'd bet nobody does a damn thing."

Actually, when I was in college, the dorms' fire alarms did have such dyes on them (I saw a huge mess on one after it was pulled). They also were covered by a plastic hood to prevent people from bumping into them. Luckily I was not in a high-rise, so I only had to suffer through a fire alarm once. The high-rise dorms next door had about two per quarter.
posted by Xoder at 7:11 AM on February 13, 2007

As a computer installer for a large IT company, I helped move many pallets and handcarts of computers in elevators, mostly in public school and government office buildings. We often abused the 'stop' button to keep the doors open on a given floor and never had the fire department show up.

I think the determining factor in my case was that the buildings I was working in were mostly greater than 20-30 years old. There were some -really- sketchy elevators, though -- I could tell you stories, but I won't. :p
posted by Alterscape at 7:15 AM on February 13, 2007

Kinda like the rumor that if you pulled a fire alarm you got squirted with dye you couldn't clean off. I'd bet nobody does a damn thing.

My college roomate got in serious trouble at the University of Michigan when he pulled this stunt. He wandered outside with the rest of the sheep (who were understandably angry at being awoken at 2 a.m.), and was confused when the police came up and asked to see his hands. Lo and behold, ink!
posted by pardonyou? at 8:13 AM on February 13, 2007

We had a nurse hit the stop button in an elevator the other day as we were trying to get a patient, gurney, and gear all squeezed in.

No alarms went off, and when we pulled the button out, the elevator went on its merry way.
posted by drstein at 2:56 PM on February 13, 2007

The older elevators that don't have cameras and intercoms usually have an emergency phone... you might find that phone ringing and someone asking what's going on.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:06 PM on February 13, 2007

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