Understanding and Applying CSA-B44 (Safety Code for Elevators) Emergency Recall Operation & Functions


By Frank Kurz

Vancouver, British Columbia - The single most frustrating Standard being enforced in Canada today, judging from the number of calls I receive, seems to be Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA’s) B44 or, more correctly, ASME A17.1-2007/CSA B44-07 - Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators (currently referenced in the 2012 version of the British Columbia Building Code).  We’ll refer to it as “CSA B44” or simply as “B44” in this article. 

The first thing we have to point out is that this is a “bi-national Standard”, which means it’s enforced in many jurisdictions in both Canada and the United States of America.  Several clauses reference multi-jurisdictional criteria, but only those that contain a specific reference to NBCC (National Building Code of Canada) apply to those of us living north of the 49th parallel (and , of course, a few rather important points that happen to be south of it in Ontario - like Toronto, Hamilton, and a few others).  Hey, if the place you happen to live in flies a flag with a big red maple leaf in the centre, then you’re likely in a jurisdiction that enforces a provincially adopted version of the NBCC (2010).

So, why is B44 so damn confusing and frustrating?  There’s the issue of enforcement.  The Elevator Code is usually the “bailleywick” of a Provincially appointed Safety Authority, where-as Building Codes are enforced by municipally appointed building officials.  The two groups seldom see eye-to-eye.  Secondly, because it’s regulated by a provincially appointed body, they can adopt any changes or amendments to the Code by simply issuing a bulletin (you’ve got to be constantly “shoulder checking”!).  Then there’s the fact that this happens to be the only Code that’s actually retroactive.  Yep, you read correctly.  If you do ANY work on an elevator (colloquially referred to as an elevator modernization), you must bring the elevator into compliance with B44 (in most provinces and territories that happens to be the “2007” version, but please ensure you CHECK before proceeding).  And by “work”, I mean replacing a defective motor, controller, hydraulic actuator, or gearbox.   As soon as you have to touch ANY one of these components (because you can no longer source parts, equipment or service), all of the clauses that relate to something called “emergency recall functions and operation” come into play.  If your building doesn’t happen to have a fire alarm system, tough!  You’ll need to install smoke detectors in the lobby of every floor served by the elevator as well as in the hoistway, and machine room, and these must initiate the appropriate responses if activated.

So, let’s examine the relevant sections of B44-07 that relate to the installation of fire detection devices and their correlation to an elevator controller.



Section is entitled “Phase I Emergency Recall Operation”.  The first mention of any relationship to a fire detection device occurs in

    “Only the ‘FIRE RECALL’ switch(es) or fire alarm initiation device located at floors that are served by the elevator, or in the hoistway, or in an elevator machine room, or a control space, or a control room (see shall initiate Phase I Emergency Recall Operation.”

Section is entitled “Phase I Emergency Recall Operation by Fire Alarm Initiating Devices”.  This is the first time you’ll likely encounter a Section that references a jurisdiction outside of Canada, because Sentence states:

    “In jurisdictions not enforcing the NBCC, the fire alarm initiating devices used to initiate Phase I Emergency Recall Operation shall be installed in conformance with the requirements of NFPA 72, and shall be located

      (a) at each floor served by the elevator
      (b) in the associated elevator machine room, control space, or control room
      (c) in the elvevator hoistway, when sprinklers are located in those hoistways”

Sentence references CANADIAN jurisdictions.

    “In jurisdictions enforcing NBCC, smoke detectors, or, if applicable, the building fire alarm system (fire alarm initiating devices), used to initiate Phase I Emergency Recall Operation, shall be installed in conformance with the requirements of the NBCC, and shall be located in

      (a) each elevator lobby
      (b) the machine room

    NOTE (  Fire Alarm initiating devices are referred to as fire detectors in NBCC.”

This last note is of particular importance.  In B44, only fire detectors are allowed to initiate the homing functions.  In many older buildings, a common “alarm” relay provided the trigger to the elevator controller.  In the 2007 version of this Code, modern building fire alarms have been constrained to provide detection and response to only a very localized group of automatic fire detectors.

 Amendment “B” to the Code clarifies the referenced note in Sentence



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    "NOTE ( Smoke and heat detectors (fire alarm initiating devices) are referred to as fire detectors in the NBCC . Pull stations are not deemed to be fire detectors."

Note also, that the Code very specifically states that SMOKE DETECTORS are to be utilized in “each elevator lobby”, and in “the machine room”.  You can still use a heat detector in the elevator shaft and this may, in fact, be advisable on taller buildings where high-speed elevators tend to “push” large volumes of air as they move up and down the shaft (in this instance, air movement through a standard spot-type ceiling smoke detector could easily exceed its rated capacity).

It should be noted that there is NO REQUIREMENT for automatic fire detectors in the elevator pit area in either B44, NBCC, or CAN/ULC-S524-06.

Moving right along (pun intended), we come to Sentence

    Phase I Emergency Recall Operation by Fire Alarm Initiating Devices.  Fire alarm initiating devices shall be installed at each floor served by the elevator, and in the associated machine room, control space, or control room, and elevator hoistway, in compliance with the requirements in NFPA 72 or NBCC, whichever is applicable (see Part 9).  In jurisdictions enforcing the NBCC, compliance with is not required where the NBCC specifies manual Emergency Recall operations only.”

The section goes on to describe how the visual indicator inside the cab and at the lobby level call points should operate.  These indicators are in the shape of a small Firefighter’s hat.  It’s supposed to work like this:

    A Phase I Recall initiated from the elevator machine (or service) room, or the hoistway will “flash” the hat inside the elevator cab intermittently.  The “hat” symbol at the lobby level call point illuminates steadily.  (The flashing hat is supposed to alert anyone contemplating the use of the elevator through the fire department “over-ride” feature that the shaft or machine space is compromised and that use is “at their own risk”.)

    A Phase I Recall initiated from a smoke detector on any floor immediately next to the elevator doors will illuminate both hats steadily.

    The hats stay “on” until the elevator recall switch is “reset” (the fire detector which initiated the alarm has to be “reset” first and restored to its normal supervisory state before you can “reset” the elevator controller).

The physical recall functions of the elevator cabs are also identified here, as well as their homing levels and what happens to them when they reach their programmed floor.  Technically speaking the fire alarm Verifier (and the technician performing the annual test) don’t get involved too much in this aspect of the project.  Programming the physical functioning of the elevator is really beyond your scope.  You must, at the very least however, ensure the fire alarm system (or the Dedicated Detection & Recall Controller) provides the proper outputs (at the elevator controller) required to achieve compliance with the Code.  Not-with-standing, a life safety professional should be making sure that everything works, regardless.



In an effort to ensure that a degree of compliance with B44 can be achieved in older buildings that may have been constructed with no fire alarm system (or which employ a fire alarm system with limited capabilities) many jurisdictions have allowed the use of a separate fire alarm control panel that’s dedicated to providing the various Emergency Recall functions:  e.g. general, alternate floor, hoistway, and machine room fire detection responses and homing.  While not specifically referenced in NBCC, the DDRC is a viable alternative solution first suggested in NFPA 72 (2002) which has gained wide acceptance in many Canadian jurisdictions.  A DDRC has several advantages over the requirements to install a fire alarm system (particularly in tall buildings).  For one thing, you can run your field wiring through the elevator shaft (as it’s considered to be part of the elevator controls) thus obviating the need for extensive (and expensive) modifications that might involve asbestos abatement protocols, and construction of fire rated compartments and cable risers.

It is extremely important that you check with your local building official before embarking on any sort of elevator modernization and make darn sure you’re also working from the same page as the authority enforcing B44 in your jurisdiction.

I happen to work in the Lower Mainland.  In Vancouver for instance, you’re required to pull both a building and an electrical permit, submit engineer’s drawings, along with your special Alternative Solution DDRC Proposal.  In Burnaby, you’re quite simply SOL as a building owner.  The building department here wants an interconnection to a fire alarm system and won’t accept an alternative involving a DDRC.

NOTE:  There are a couple of additional requirements that most jurisdictions which allow you to incorporate a DDRC into an existing building will insist on.  The two most important being that ALL devices have to be installed to CAN/ULC-S524-06 (Standard for Installation of Fire Alarm Systems) and Verified to CAN/ULC-S537-04 (Standard for Verification of Fire Alarm Systems) even though, technically, it’s NOT a fire alarm system.



Take a look at our Elevator FAQ.
Here’s the BC Safety Authority’s Bulletin B-L4 110513 2.
Ken Baird’s CFAA Technical Seminar Presentation
Dean McLellan’s CFAA Technical Seminar Presentation

Questions?  Contact Us!

Special thanks to Michael Zukov, P. Eng. and Calvin Vander Leest, P.L.(Eng.) for providing the amendment information to B44-07.


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