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Technical Update - Fire Doors

Fire doors - Would Yours Stand The Test In A Fire Emergency?

Would Yours Stand The Test In A Fire Emergency?

According to the Fire Protection Association (FPA), 76% of fire doors failed inspections in 2019.

Perhaps these next few stories will help paint a better picture.

A colleague anecdotally recalls how as a part of the senior management team of a large retail organisation, they were instructed to take pictures of fire doors and ensure that although it was not their property, they could, should there be a fire, get out quickly and safely. She tells me that it was not unusual to find fire doors bolted, chained and obstructed.

On another occasion, while consulting for a manufacturing organisation, she asked how they would get out in the event of a fire as the fire door had been boarded over to make use of the space for training. The manager replied, ‘Petal if there is a fire, the whole place will go boom.’

Certainly a fire door issue.

Not only are fire doors blocked people often do not heed the sound of a fire alarm.

Let me set the scene. It’s 4 am, and the fire alarm of the hotel that you are staying in on business rouses you from a deep sleep. Pulling on your clothes over your pyjamas, you head to the nearest fire exit. On the way out, you notice that no one else has joined you.

Perhaps you think it’s a mistake, yet the alarm keeps sounding.

Thinking of your personal safety, you head for the nearest fire door. You feel grateful that it’s not blocked and opens easily. Looking back, you realise you are still on your own. While you hesitate, someone from the hotel calls up and tells you that a small fire has been located and is now out.

You can go back to bed. The alarm stops, and still, no one else joins you in the corridor.

This may seem an unlikely tale, but sadly far too many people do not understand the importance of fire safety and the safest route out of a hotel when on business.

The statistics broken down further

It would seem then that fire doors, in many cases, are neglected and ignored. We can see this further as the FPA breaks the 79% down:

  • 57% of installed fire doors inspected needed small scale maintenance
  • 24% that were third party certificated were correctly installed and maintained
  • 40% of these were condemned due to poor maintenance
  • 36% of third-party certificated fire doors were condemned due to both poor installation and poor maintenance
  • 6% of the doors inspected were not fire doors at all

Source: https://www.thefpa.co.uk/news/76-of-fire-doors-failed-inspections-in-2019

It seems shocking that organisations are still not ensuring premises are safe with so many dreadful fires being reported, most notably Grenfell.

Fire doors - The history of and current usage

The first modern fire rated door was steel, patented in 1903 by Charles Dahlstrom and fire doors and shutters were common in the industry and tall buildings to prevent the spread of fire and loss of property by, along with suitable construction, separating a building into fire compartments to limit the spread of fire.

In 1951 the first British Standard for wooden fire doors was published, and by this time, the use of suitable structures and doors to protect escape routes for the safety of occupiers had been established.

Older fire doors using 25mm stops proved to be adequate at restricting heat and flame, but less so hot gases, smoke and toxic fumes and the introduction of intumescent strips (which swell when heated to fill the gaps around the door) and smoke seals (to stop the flow of both cold and hot smoke, gas and fumes) in the latter part of the 20th century vastly enhanced their effectiveness.

It is now common to refer to a fire door set rather than a fire door as not only the door leaf or leaves but also the door frame, essential hardware, edge seals and glazing, and any integral side panels or fanlight panels in an associated door screen, must be of the right materials, installed correctly and compatible with each other in order for the door to perform correctly. The use of fire door sets is for a 3-fold purpose:

  • To maintain the integrity of means of escape in the event of a fire - By stopping smoke and toxic gases from entering stairways, corridors, etc
  • To isolate areas within a building that represent a significant fire risk - By stopping heat and flame from entering or leaving them
  • To provide access through compartment walls - Whilst still maintaining compartmentation to limit the spread and effect of fire in a building

Correctly sited (via a Fire Risk Assessment ideally via third party accredited specialists) and maintained (ideally via third party accredited contractors) fire door sets are a major part of the preservation of life and property in a premise.

When were yours last checked?

Why have Fire Doors?

Generally, fire doors are the first line of defence in protecting people and property in the event of a fire. They form a vital part of your building’s passive fire protection system, preventing the flow of smoke and fire. Additionally, helping to compartmentalise a building to provide its occupants with a safe means of escape.

They are essential in all buildings and integral to your fire safety strategy.

Fire doors have an FD rating, which means how long they can withstand fire. For example, an FD60 door will offer protection from fire for 60 mins. However, no matter the rating, if they are not fit for purpose or propped open, they will offer no protection in effect, as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Fire doors are constructed and tested to British Standards BS 476: Part 22 or BS EN 1634-1, and the door furniture is also designed to comply to strict standards.

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005, it is a requirement to make sure your fire doors will function correctly in the event of a fire. They must also be regularly inspected, tested, and maintained, as confirmed in your fire risk assessment.

Current risk assessment guidance recommends that fire doors and components should be checked periodically. The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) suggests that inspections should be carried out every 6 months. What is important here is that this is not a nice to or a box-ticking exercise. The statistics already show the large number of failures.

It is additionally worth noting guidelines in the Fire Safety Act 2021 (see our webinar).

The anatomy of a fire door

Fire Inspections

Fire door safety is commonly misunderstood and ignored. It’s easy to see why. People see fire doors every day, and they simply blend into the background.

Organisations like Ligtas have the right resources and training available to support organisations to improve their fire safety strategies and awareness.

All our fire door inspections are carried out by a certified assessor. This gives building managers, tenants, and owners much needed peace of mind that the fire doors within their properties have been checked by a competent person and that any remedial actions needed to meet the requirements of BS476 have been highlighted.

What does the Fire Door Inspection include?

The inspection will involve checking:

  • that the gap around the door frame and threshold is correct
  • that hinge condition and certification
  • signage overhead door closes
  • fire-related glass
  • intumescent seals
  • smoke seals
  • locks, latches, and handles are in good working order
  • This includes any riser or electrical cupboards.

Comprehensive Fire Door Inspection Report

Following the fire door inspection, you will receive a detailed report which itemises the pass/fail rating for each door based on the required criteria. The report also includes a full list of any remedial actions needed to bring the doors up to the necessary standard.

And finally, although it seems obvious to say fire doors will only work in the event of a fire if they meet standards, they are regularly inspected, properly maintained and closed.

For anyone reading this, if you see a fire door bolted, chained, blocked, broken or open, report it. You may not only be saving your life but the lives of all of your colleagues and other tenants.

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