How much attention do you pay to your fire door inspection schedule? Can you say with certainty that you’re not in breach of UK fire safety regulations? If the answers to those questions aren’t ‘plenty and ‘yes’, you definitely need to read this blog post on fire door inspection and maintenance.
A fire door isn’t ‘just a door’. It’s a specially engineered piece of equipment made to demanding safety standards, for very good reason. Choosing a quality product from a reputable, certified supplier is a great first step, but your responsibilities don’t end there.
It’s up to the ‘responsible person’ to arrange fire door inspections regularly, ensuring they are always in good condition. If you’re the responsible person, you must also keep a maintenance log, assigning all doors a unique reference number to avoid unintentional mistakes during maintenance visits.
We’re often asked about the recommended frequency of maintenance checks. The answer depends on your building; a fire risk assessor will review door usage, location and footfall during an assessment and advice on service intervals. BS9999 recommends at least every six months but in busy environments, it may be more frequently.
In this blog, we look in detail at five ways in which regular fire door inspections and maintenance save lives.
1. Fire doors slow down the spread of fire and smoke
Given the protective powers of a fire door, it’s a shame that so many are neglected and poorly maintained or viewed as just part of the furniture. Ignore them until they’re needed, and it may be too late.
Imagine yourself in a burning building, desperate to escape or protect yourself until help arrives. Smoke travels faster than fire and if you’re unfortunate enough to be trapped in a burning building, it’s likely that the only way of protecting yourself is behind a fire door. Remember, deadly toxic fumes can incapacitate a human in seconds.
Fire doors usually come with a certified fire resistance (expressed in number of minutes). The most common on the market today is FD30 (30 minutes fire resistance) with some FD60 doors also in use. Effective people protection can generally be achieved with FD30 doors, giving the emergency services time to reach the scene.
After 30 (or 60) minutes, the fire door’s integrity will start to give way with cracks appearing through which gases and flames can travel.
During maintenance checks, your fire door technician can let you know if your doors need replacing or repairing to bring them up to recommended safety levels.
2. Fire doors maintain a physical barrier between you and injury
As we’ve just explained, a well-maintained door stops smoke and fire reaching the occupants of a building. How does it do this? Let’s look at the components of a fire door in more detail.
All aspects of a fire door (which make up the fire door ‘unit’ during testing) must be constructed of appropriate fire-retardant materials. This includes the:
- door leaf (the part which swings open and shut)
- door frame
- fire or smoke seals (seals line the edges of a door)
- hardware (hinges, closing devices, handles)
Seals are especially important. They can be made of intumescent strips which expand when exposed to heat. It’s vital these are correctly rated to ensure a 100% seal against smoke and gases.
3: Fire doors sub-divide buildings into compartments
In the fire safety industry, we refer to passive and active fire protection systems. A simple example of active fire protection is a sprinkler system. We use the term ‘active’ because it describes the change in state of the sprinkler system when fire is present, from off to on.
Fire protection equipment which doesn’t change state, such as a fire door, is thought of as passive fire protection. A fire door doesn’t visibly ‘do’ anything, but it still has protective qualities. One of these is its contribution to compartmentation (one of the core principles of passive fire protection).
Take any building and split it into discrete areas. At each end, place a rated fire door (and double check the fire-retardant capabilities of ceilings and floors). By creating pockets of fire resistance inside a building, fire can be contained and people elsewhere in the building protected. Compartments also give fire rescue teams more time to mount rescue operations.
Be aware that non-related building works can interfere with the fire-retardant quality of materials especially if it involves drilling through walls, floors or ceilings, or moving large structures such as boilers or pipework.
4. Fire doors preserve escape routes
The preservation of escape routes should make us realise why it’s so important that building occupants treat fire doors respectfully and not as ‘just any old door’.
Science tells us that fire responds to airflow and will travel along the line of least resistance. Corridors and stairwells are welcome spaces for a fire seeking to move quickly and destroy. You’ve just propped open your fire door leading out onto a corridor and forgotten to shut it. Good news for the fire, bad news for anyone inside the building.
Once fire and smoke spread, they do so quickly. Corridors with a clear line of sight and clean air rapidly turn into smoke-filled tunnels, impossible for anyone to see more than a few feet ahead.
Thoughtless behaviour is just one factor in the failure of a fire door to protect life. A lack of, or poor quality, maintenance is another factor. Stay up to date with your service schedule and educate building inhabitants and you stand a good chance of eliminating both factors.
5. Fire doors give fire and rescue teams longer to mount rescue operations
Everything we’ve talked about above contributes to people’s ability to take care of themselves while they wait for the emergency services to arrive.
Effective compartmentation can halt a fire long enough for people on the other side to escape via the nearest fire exit. And if others remain trapped, well-maintained fire doors go a long way to holding back fire.
Remember that all fire door inspections and maintenance should be carried out by a competent technician. Choose someone qualified and with the right experience, and you can be assured that all their work meets regulatory requirements. Document everything and if the worst does happen, you will have done everything possible to prevent it. You will also be safe from prosecution as the responsible person.