Fire doors are doors with fire-resistance ratings that are used as part of a passive fire protection system to reduce the spread of fire and smoke between separate compartments of a structure and enable safe egress from a building. In the wake of Fire Door Safety Week, which ran from 24-30 September, Karen Trigg observes the key reasons why fire doors are integral to any successful fire safety strategy.
On Monday 3 September, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry resumed in a bid to determine whether urgent fire safety measures need to take place. The ongoing investigation has seen the building being dubbed as the outcome of a ‘culture of non-compliance’ wherein everything about the structure, from the cladding and evacuation plans through to fire doors and door closers, was significantly ineffective.
As the fire protection industry attempts to heighten fire safety and awareness of it, it’s clear that the fundamental issues are the lack of any holistic approach coupled with insufficient fire safety knowledge. This not only applies to high-rise buildings, but in all types of Government-owned buildings as well.
Need for a culture change
In order to remedy failing fire safety measures in the UK, a complete culture change is needed. As Dame Judith Hackitt states in her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: “We need to adopt a very different approach towards the regulatory framework covering the design, construction and maintenance of high-rise residential buildings.”
Fire doors are one of the most common causes of fire safety regulations being breached. Many building owners and users still remain blissfully unaware aware that propping them open is a breach of the rules. They don’t always think to close these doors when one has been spotted open.
Fire doors are crucial for keeping a building’s inhabitants safe in the event of a fire. That’s because they help to compartmentalise fire and smoke, buying precious time during an emergency evacuation and potentially resulting in less damage to the building. In fact, fire doors should only be used as a barrier when closed and as a means of escape when open.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, it was revealed that the fire doors within the building were destroyed within 15 minutes, despite being designed to last for 30 minutes. This could have been due to a number of reasons including poor maintenance and fitting, damage and incorrect hardware together with missing smoke strips.
The most common types of fire doors are the FD30 and the FD60 types, which can withstand fire and smoke for 30 and 60 minutes respectively. If a fire door fails to withstand a fire for the amount of time it has been designed for, this can result in devastating effects.
When knowledge falls short
When building owners or inhabitants label fire safety requirements as a grey area, this is when standards can slip. There are a number of matters to consider when checking if a fire door is operating correctly. These include:
*Checking the door’s certification. This will usually come in the form of a label on the top edge of the door or a colour-coded plug inserted into the jamb
*Checking the gaps around the top and sides of the door between the frame. These should be no more than 3 mm when the door is closed
*Looking for intumescent seals around the door or frame. These should be intact and free from damage
*Checking that all hinges are firmly fixed with no missing or broken screws
*Making sure the door closes firmly to the latch without sticking to the frame or the floor
Educating yourself or the necessary individuals on what’s required is important, as it not only safeguards the building in the event of a fire, but can ultimately save lives, too.
If a faulty or damaged fire door is spotted, action should be taken immediately. There are a number of things to do to make sure the issue is addressed and subsequently rectified. These include reporting the issue to the building’s maintenance contractor, speaking to a fire door inspector or contacting the door’s manufacturer, supplier, installer or fit-out company.
If you do suspect that one or more of your fire doors are not compliant, it’s important to seek professional advice right away.
Another factor which was detrimental to the level of fire safety during the Grenfell Tower fire was the building’s lack of (or damaged) door closers. This resulted in “shortcomings in compartmentation” (meaning that the fire and smoke wasn’t contained for as long a time period as it should have been).
Just as integral to an effective fire safety plan is the adequate operation of door closers. If a door closer is faulty or damaged, it may be unable to close a fire door in the event of a fire. At the same time, it’s necessary to check that door closers allow for free passage. This includes making sure a door opens with ease and closes again safely.
As well as being undamaged and securely fitted, make sure that if the door is unlatched, for example, the door closer holds the door in-line with the frame and the intrumescent seal. Lastly, it should be free from oil leakage.
All fire door equipment and hardware must be correctly specified, installed and maintained in order to perform adequately. This includes carrying out regular risk assessments.
Post-Grenfell Tower, it’s now more important than ever to ensure specifications are correct to a building’s requirements and compliant with the relevant Codes of Practice and regulations. This is particularly true for buildings where funding may fall short. It can be difficult to implement high-quality solutions, so the temptation may be to opt for cost-efficiency. While opting for value for your money can seem a highly tempting route to take, the finer details may be overlooked and, more worryingly, quality and function can be compromised.
If you’re unsure on the solutions or products available, or even about how to implement an effective fire safety strategy around the constraints of budget, speaking to experts on this matter can guide you in the right direction.
Karen Trigg is Business Development Manager at Allegion UK