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Tackling five common issues with fire door access

Tackling five common issues with fire door access

Closed fire doors save lives. They prevent fire spreading through a building, which gives people more time to evacuate. But closed fire doors also hugely hinder access throughout a building. What are five of the biggest concerns with closed fire doors?

Heavy doors

Fire doors are heavy — they need to be to be able contain a fire. However, trying to push open a heavy fire door can be difficult for younger school pupils, frailer residents at a care home or hospital or those with limited mobility.

Many of the residents of the flats at Adlington House in Cheshire have limited mobility and were struggling with heavy fire doors closing too quickly. This made it very difficult for them to move around, and impeded their independence. The building’s management installed Freedor which allowed doors to be held open legally, but also took the weight out of the door when closed. Residents were able to open doors without trouble, helping them to get about day to day.

Closed doors

Wedged open fire doors are illegal because fire doors need to be closed to do their job. However closed doors prevent the circulation of fresh air, which can lead to a stuffy environment. They also can be a physical and mental barrier to those with limited mobility, as well as difficult to open for those with heavy luggage or pushchairs.

The Albert Hotel needed to keep fire doors open in their Victorian building to improve ventilation, make the hotel more welcoming for guests and ensure it was easier for staff and guests to move around. White Dorgard units were unobtrusive on the hotel’s traditional doors, and meant doors could remain open when required, but would always automatically close in the event of a fire.

Damage

In hospitals and schools, closed fire doors can easily sustain damage. Stretchers, electronic equipment, wheelchairs, beds — a lot of cumbersome apparatus needs to be quickly transported around a hospital. And children can be a little heavy-handed (or footed) with doors!

The Royal Liverpool University Hospital found its heavy fire doors were making life difficult for staff with stretchers. The doors were also being damaged. Once Freedor was installed, the doors were able to remain open, preventing damage as well as ensuring easy access for staff, patients and visitors.

Isolation

A closed, heavy fire door can be a mental barrier, as well a physical one. For patients in hospital, or residents in care homes, a closed door to their room can lead to feelings of isolation, particularly if they are unable to move around without assistance. This can also be the case in university halls of residence, where socialising with fellow residents is vital when you’re new and need to make friends.

The fire doors at LWPHomes meant that residents with limited mobility always needed assistance from staff to get back to their rooms. This took away some of the freedom for residents, as well as taking staff away from where they were needed elsewhere. After installing Dorgard units, residents could move around easily without assistance, socialise and not have to worry about the barrier of a heavy fire door.

Injuries

Younger school pupils or people with limited mobility may struggle to open heavy doors, and could be injured when doors close quickly. Closed fire doors can also be dangerous for staff at hotels or workers in an office carrying hot drinks or food to another room.

The slamming of fire doors at Newport Junior School was causing disruption and damage to the doors and staff were worried about possible injuries. This led to doors being illegally wedged open. Freedor was installed so doors could be held open when required, and also to take the weight away from closed fire doors making them much easier to open.

 

Closed fire doors perform a vital function, but being able to keep them open improves access and quality of life for everyone. Fitting a door retainer that closes doors automatically in the case of an emergency offers peace of mind and easy compliance with regulations.

 

Keep the noise down

Keep the noise down

Evacuating a care home has its own unique challenges. Elderly residents could be bedbound, suffering from dementia, hard of hearing, or unable to move without assistance. Added to this is the distress that a loud fire alarm can cause to vulnerable residents. Plans must be in place to ensure no occupant is trapped in the case of a fire, and staff need to be well trained.

A loud and startling fire alarm could cause physical or mental distress for frailer residents, particularly if they need to wait for help from a member of staff. Even if the noise does not cause panic, different alarms sound frequently in care homes, so it may be difficult to work out exactly what the alarm is for.

“When you work in a care home alarms can be quite confusing for residents, as they might not know what the alarm means — whether it’s a smoke alarm from burnt toast, or an alarm to call for assistance,” says Barbara James, a care home manager specialising in providing care for dementia patients. “This means when a fire alarm goes off, we need to work out the best way to let our elderly residents know without causing upset.”

In Europe, a silent evacuation system is often used. In this scenario, when an alarm is activated, staff are alerted with a pre-alarm notification system — either warning lights, or a messaging system that goes directly to phones. Staff then have three to five minutes to check the building for fire. If it is a false alarm, the alarm is reset and no one is disturbed. If a fire is discovered, an evacuation button is pressed and staff can move occupants to safety if required, or lead a full evacuation. As no loud alarm is necessary, it minimises upset to residents.

One of the benefits of a silent evacuation, is the reduction in false alarms. As residents are not initially aware of an alarm, staff can quickly assess whether or not there is a fire without residents being disturbed.

In a silent evacuation, staff can calmly assist residents to safety.

With the different challenges involved in care home fire safety, a full evacuation is not always possible. In these circumstances it is vital that the fire is contained where possible. The European Confederation of Fire Protection Associations states in its guidelines for fire safety in care homes for the elderly: “If the resident or patient is not able to exit the apartment or treatment room quickly enough and that rescue by others in time is not possible, conditions must be prevented from becoming life-threatening by fitting a system to contain the spread of fire.” Fire doors are extremely valuable here.
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Nothing is more important in a care home than the safety and well-being of its residents. Silent evacuation is a highly effective way of keeping occupants safe and calm in the event of a fire.

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