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Why do we need fire doors?

Fire doors save lives. They’re designed to stop the spread of fire and smoke for a specified amount of time. This serves three main functions:

  • To protect escape routes so people can evacuate safely
  • To protect the building and its contents (an insurance requirement)
  • To allow firefighters to extinguish the fire as safely as possible.

What is the difference between a fire door and a fire exit?

Fire exits are found on external walls, and take people outside. Fire doors are internal and are specially designed and installed to resist fire. Some fire doors are also considered fire exits if they are on the evacuation route to the final fire exit.

Fire exit signs are needed throughout a building so people can easily find their way out of a building in an emergency.

External fire exits can remain open, and must be easy to open (preferably in the direction of traffic, i.e. push to exit) so that people can easily vacate a building in an emergency. Fire exits should be clearly marked with a sign above the door. Fire exit doors do not need to be fire-resisting, unlike fire doors.

Fire doors need to be closed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. Wedging or propping them open is dangerous. They can be held open with certain devices but these must automatically release the door to close if the fire alarm sounds.

Fire doors need to have a sign saying ‘fire door, keep shut’ or a specific sign with information about the door, for example ‘Automatic fire door keep clear’.

Where do we need fire doors?

In non-domestic buildings, there must be a protected escape route. Fire doors are therefore required if they lead to corridors or staircases, for example.

They’re also needed to compartmentalise a fire, i.e. to stop it spreading from one part of the building to another. This means they’re used in high-risk areas such as kitchens, storage areas with combustible materials and boiler rooms.

New build or renovated domestic properties with three storeys or more must have fire doors to every habitable room off the stairwell.

What’s the difference between fire doors and other doors?

Fire doors are specially designed to resist the passage of fire and smoke.

  • Fire doors are made of composite materials and are much heavier than normal internal doors. This means they can be more difficult to push or pull open.
  • They need to be fitted with a door closer so they shut automatically.
  • Fire doors need a seal around the edges which swells when heated to block any gaps.
  • If the doors are fitted with windows, it needs to be fire-resistant glazing.
  • All ironmongery on the door needs to be fire-resistant as well.

For how long do fire doors need to resist fire?

The most commonly installed fire door is FD30 which is designed to resist fire for a minimum of 30 minutes. Sometimes a FD60 is required, which resists fire for a minimum of 60 minutes and also has fully tested seals for smoke resistance.

It is important to note that fire doors are certified against a furnace test using a time-temperature curve. How long they will actually resist a real fire depends on a large number of factors, including orientation of the fire to the door, what is burning and the energy release rate, etc. They may fail sooner in a real fire, but on the other hand, may not fail at all. This means that even if you are standing behind an FD60, it does not necessarily mean you can wait for an hour with the fire on the other side of the door in safety.

It is generally up to the specifier to decide which door is right.

Check your doors

As with all life-saving products such as fire extinguishers or smoke alarms, fire doors need to be checked regularly to make sure they are fit for purpose. Any slight change to the door can affect its performance. Checks should be carried out every six months, or more often if it is a busy traffic area.

IFSEC has a five-step fire door check. Click here for more information. Or watch our video.

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