The Importance of Fire Door Inspections and Maintenance
What is a fire door?
Fire doors are a passive protection measure specifically designed to withstand a fire in order to save lives and protect property. They work by compartmentalizing the building and staggering the spread of a fire. This gives people more time to safely leave the building, and a slower spread means firefighters have more time before the whole building is ablaze, and a smaller, more contained fire to put out.
Each certified fire door has a fire rating, the most common of which are FD30 and FD60. FD30 is an abbreviation for Fire Door 30, which means that the fire door will last for 30 minutes in a fire, whereas a FD60 will last 60 minutes. The certification of a door can displayed by either being written on a sticker or a colour coded plug on the top or hinge edge of the door. The certification is given to doors that have undergone rigorous tests, where they are put under the circumstances of a fire. This is why any alterations made to fire doors needs to be checked with the manufacturer test data beforehand, as adding, removing or replacing parts can drastically affect the integrity of the door and it’s fire protection effectiveness.
Fire doors have certain features that are crucial to it’s effectiveness. The ironmongery of a fire door such as hinges, closers and locks should be fire rated to withstand a fire and be fitted in a way to prevent the transfer of heat from one side of the door to the other. Hinges are graded with grade 11 or higher being recommended. They are also fitted with intumescent seals around the edge of the door or frame. These seals expand under the heat of a fire, securing the door in place and preventing further fire spread. This only works if the door is closed, and why having a fire rated closer or keeping the door locked is important. Intumescent seals should also be fitted into the beading of any glazing in the door.
All certified fire doors are made and set up to stop fire spread, but not all of them are set up to stop smoke. Fire smoke causes more deaths than fire itself, and so it is very common for intumescent smoke seals to be seen to be fitted with a smoke seal. This can be either come as part of the intumescent seal or a separate smoke seal fitted to the frame. If either is fitted to the frame or the door then a fire door would become a fire and smoke door – FD30 would become a FD30S – Fire Door 30 minutes Smoke. A fire door doesn’t have to have just intumescent smoke seals if that is the certification, and fire door can have smoke seals, but if it is certified to have smoke seals then it must have them.
Fire doors should be indicated by a ‘Fire Door Keep Shut (FDKS)’, ‘Fire Door Keep Locked’ (FDKL) or ‘Automatic Fire Door Keep Clear’ (AFDKC) sign. FDKS signs indicated that it is not required to be locked, but must be kept closed when not in use, which should usually be enforced by a door closer. Doors with FDKL signs usually don’t have closers as they are meant to be locked when not in use. AFDKC signs are typically found on doors that are held open with a hold-open device that releases the door during a fire alarm, allowing the closer to shut the door, preventing the spread of fire.
Where are fire doors located?
Fire doors are located in several different locations depending on the type of building and the compartmentation of that building. The main areas that are protected by fire doors are routes required for escape, such as stairwells and corridors, as well as areas where a fire is more likely to occur, such as: riser cupboards, electrical rooms, kitchens, motor rooms, plant rooms etc. What is situated in these areas determine the compartmentation, and therefore the type of fire door required. For example, a stairwell will usually be fitted with smoke fire doors to allow people to safely use the stairwell with minimal smoke inhalation. Areas such as plant rooms will usually have doors with a higher fire rating. If a fire started in a plant room, for example, the higher fire rated doors would hold the fire in the enclosed space for longer, whilst the alarm system prompts a safer evacuation of the building.
Importance of inspections and maintenance
A Fire door, like anything else that is used regularly, is vulnerable to wear. Over time, the repetitive use of these doors can incur faults that can reduce the effectiveness at stopping a fire. Even the doors that are not used regularly, like riser cupboard doors, are still susceptible to damage or may have existing faults that require addressing. This is why it is absolutely crucial to have regular fire door inspections. If a fire door has been damaged or warped, if the seals have been damaged or come out of place, the hinges are leaking or a frame has not been properly fire stopped etc. then the structural integrity of that door has been compromised, and puts lives and property at risk. Even a small hole in a fire door decreases the amount of time that it can stop a fire, and therefore decreases the amount of time people have to evacuate.
Legal obligations and legislations
The laws around fire doors and the obligations of the responsible people can change as time moves on, and problems arise. For example, the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 came into effect on 23rd January 2023. This is a result of the unfortunate Grenfell Tower tragedy. Regulation 10 states that ‘if the top storey of the building is above 11m in height’, then ‘the responsible person must:
- Use best endeavours to check all flat entrance fire doors at least every 12 months; and
- Carry out checks of any fire doors in communal areas at least every 3 months’
Commercial buildings usually require a fire door inspection every 6 months. This ensures that any damage or wear over time is discovered and brought to the attention of the responsible person in a reasonable time frame. Regularly having the fire doors checked and maintained ensures a greater safety measure for the lives of the occupants and the property itself.
What happens if they are neglected?
The inspections are conducted to seek out and highlight any faults that a may be present on any of the doors and to notify those responsible for them. Neglecting the legal obligations to have the inspections carried out, or the reported findings from an inspection could potentially be putting lives at risk. By not employing the expert eye of a competent inspector and remedying the faults found, the building and the lives within it may be lost. You never think it will happen, until it does.