Fire safety has been particularly topical in recent years with the post boom legacy of bad construction practice coming to light here in Ireland and the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in the UK that resulted in 72 fatalities.
Critical to the fire safety strategy in public, commercial or multi occupancy buildings is the correct selection, use, maintenance and inspection of fire doors. Yes, the humble door plays a critical and often unrecognised part in the passive fire prevention strategy of a building. To prevent the spread of fire and smoke in commercial buildings they are typically divided up into compartments however we need to circulate in building and pass through the compartments and this is where fire doors come in to play. While allowing access and egress they are vital for the prevention of fire AND smoke spread between separate building compartments and allowing people enough time to escape in the event of a fire outbreak.
In a 2019 survey of fire doors inspected under the Fire Door Inspection Scheme* in the UK the results from more than 100,000 fire door inspections were analysed. Worryingly more than three-quarters (76%) of the fire doors inspected by the Scheme were condemned as not fit for purpose and just 24% of fire doors passed inspections across 2,700 buildings.
There are also clearly problems with fire door installation as 30% of fire doors nationwide were condemned due to poor installation, with problems including excessive gaps around the door and the use of non-compatible foam. The data also found that 57% of installed fire doors inspected needed small scale maintenance, with the top three reasons for failures including excessive gaps, smoke sealing issues and poorly adjusted door closers, which would prevent the door performing as designed to hold back the spread of a fire.
A fire door is not just the door leaf. It is a complete assembly comprising the frame, any glazing, intumescent fire and smoke seals and all the ironmongery that is used on the door, such as hinges, overhead door closers, latches and locks. The fire door set needs to be installed correctly and maintained in perfect condition for the installed lifetime. Excessive gaps, missing intumescent strip, defective door closers, inappropriate modifications, all render the fire door set ineffective with significant impairment to fire and smoke resistance.
Fire door sets come in a variety of ratings for fire resistance, with all component parts compatible with the required resistance, and should be certified accordingly. Third-party certificated fire doors provide crucial specification information and proof of performance for building owners, but if they are incorrectly installed or not maintained, they will not perform as designed and prevent the spread of fire.
Inspection of the fire doors should be part of the routine fire safety inspection regime in the building. The wedging open of fire doors, often indeed with a fire extinguisher, is a frequent occurrence in buildings and must be guarded against. If a door is to be in the open position for through flow of people e.g. in a hallway dividing fire doors, then a fire door retainer mechanism, interconnected to the fire alarm system, can be used. A risk assessment must be carried out by a competent person before
*The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) was launched as a joint venture by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers (GAI) in 2012 with the aim to transform people’s knowledge about how and why fire doors work and the potential dangers of getting it wrong.