Fire doors explained: A beginner’s guide
To put it simply, fire doors save lives.
These specialist doors are tested against the elements and purpose-built to withstand roaring fires for as long as possible. They enable buildings to compartmentalise and delay the spread of fire from one area to another.
Fire doors have a few vital safety features and really can be the difference between life and death. Two of the most important functions fire doors have are:
- When closed, they form a barrier to stop the spread of fire
- When opened, they provide a means of escape
Because of their importance in protecting lives, it is imperative that fire doors receive regular inspections – frequency is likely to depend on many factors, including the age and condition of the door. It has been suggested that a minimum quarterly inspection rule may be applied when the new Fire Safety Bill is implemented, recommended in Phase One of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Worryingly, the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) recently highlighted that three quarters of all fire doors inspected in 2019 were condemned as not fit for purpose.
If you own a commercial or non-domestic property, there are strict regulations and guidelines to follow, ensuring the doors can withstand certain heats. Fire doors should always be fitted correctly by a competent installer, as they’re a carefully engineered fire safety device.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), landlords have a responsibility to ensure their properties and tenants are safe. The ‘responsible person’ has a legal responsibility under the FSO and can be criminally prosecuted if they do not fulfill their duties. The responsibility extends to the requirement for a fire risk assessment in all non-domestic buildings, including the common parts of flats or houses with multiple occupation.
Features of fire doors
Here are some of the key features to look out for in terms of both domestic and commercial use:
- Fire doors are made up of various components. The door itself is usually made from a solid timber frame, but they can sometimes be covered again in fire-resistant glass. This glass should be able to withstand exposure to the heat condition in a fire test for at least 60 minutes before it reaches a temperature high enough to soften it.
- Around the edges of the door will be the intumescent seal, which is designed to expand when temperatures reach beyond 200°C to seal the gaps between the door and frame.
- For a private premises, it is advised to install fire doors where the risk is most imminent, for example the kitchen, or rooms which house lots of electrical devices. If your property is a new build, it should have been subject to regulations ensuring certain doors are fire doors – check this with the developer. As it currently stands, fire doors are only legally required in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
- For commercial or non-domestic properties, liability lies with whoever is deemed the ‘responsible person’ for that property or the employer. For example, the owner of the property, or the person in control of the property for trade reasons would be responsible.
- Thorough risk assessments must be carried out and it is advisable to get professional help with all fire-safety-related regulations. There is more to passive fire protection and fire safety than just fire doors; escape routes, lighting, warning systems and equipment checks are also required.
- When you’re choosing a door it’s important to know what the different specifications mean. The FD code shows how many minutes of fire a door can withstand, for example an FD30 has been tested to withstand 30 minutes. The most common two codes are generally considered to be FD30 and FD60. The test procedures manufacturers use are specified in BS 476-22:1987 or BS EN 1634-1:2014.
- Many deaths during fires are not from direct contact with the flames, but the consumption of smoke. With this in mind, keep an eye out for a doorset with cold smoke seals. These should be within the intumescent seal. Exceptions may apply where the leakage of the smoke is essential for detecting a fire early.