Fire Doors – Are they just a bit of a nuisance?

Fire Doors are everywhere, in offices, public buildings, shops, restaurants, and even in the home! We often find them in places they don’t need to be as well, this is generally over specification, often by the architect or building designers. But what is the point of fire doors and do we really need them?

We all know that fire kills. The prevailing form of injury from fire is the smoke which kills and injures people by their thousands every year. In the last year alone, the statistics (2013 – 2014) show there were just under 170,000 fires in total across all types of incident, resulting in 275 fire deaths and 8,132 non-fatal injuries.

It’s interesting to contrast fires, deaths and (non-fatal) injuries between dwelling fires (homes) and other non-dwelling buildings, particularly as the use of fire doors is very common in non-dwellings, much less so in homes.

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As the table above demonstrates, you are almost twice as likely to be involved in a fire in a residential property such as your home, than in other types of buildings. Even removing the greater frequency of fires in the home, you are still less likely to be injured or die as a result of a fire in a non-residential building.

There are other means of protection used in non-residential buildings, which are not often (currently) found in the home such as sprinklers, fire-resistant construction methods, smoke curtains, etc. Even taking this into account it would appear that it is much safer in non-dwellings, as far as fire is concerned.

One of the principle reasons is fire doors. So in answer to the original question, ‘do we need fire doors’, the answer is yes! Normally buildings are compartmentalised to prevent the spread of fire and smoke, however people still need to move around the building whilst maintaining the protection, and that is what fire doors offer us. Fire doors prevent the spread of fire (of course) and importantly smoke.  Smoke not only has the potential to cause injury and death, it also reduces visibility and can cause panic, therefore preventing the spread of smoke throughout the building for as long as possible.

Often fire doors will have intumescent strips, to prevent the spread of fire through the gaps around the edges; others contain intumescent and smoke strips, with the more modern designs tending to have an all-in-one strip that combines both. The door will be marked with a code, such as FD30, indicating that it should resist the spread of fire for 30 minutes. Where it also has a smoke seal this is indicated by an ‘s’ suffix, as in FD30s.

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However, a fire door is only any use if it is closed, or held open by an automatic opening device. Smoke will spread quickly along corridors and into non affected rooms when fire doors are held open. Next time you see a wedged fire door, remove the wedge, you could be a life saver!

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