Frequently confused with a Fire Exit Door, the purpose of a fire door is distinctly different and is:
i) to create/protect an escape route through a building in a fire situation; and
ii) to compartmentalise a fire to stop the smoke and flames spreading from one section of the building to another.
For example, in a church or church hall with catering facilities, a fire door will protect the rest of the premises should a fire break out in the kitchen.
Following a fire risk assessment it may be necessary to change some internal doors to fire doors, or upgrade existing doors to fire door standard.
How does a fire door work?
Fire doors, or doorsets as they are also known, are designed to offer protection from the smoke and flames of a conflagration for a minimum specified length of time. This is typically 30 minutes (FD30), which should allow sufficient time to evacuate the premises and for the emergency services to respond.
Where a fire door is deployed in a restricted area that is not usually populated, such as the boiler room, it should be kept locked shut. These would be marked with a sign stating "Fire Door Keep Locked Shut".
On the other hand, fire doors that form part of the escape route through the building must be able to open freely, to facilitate evacuation in case of fire, and must not be obstructed. In order to perform their function in resisting a fire, they must also be able to self-close. These would be marked with a sign "Fire Door Keep Shut".
The final exit door of the escape route (which may also be the main entrance to the church) does not have to be a fire door. It should remain unlocked all the time the church is occupied and be clearly signed as the Exit.
The parts of a fire door
A fire door is not simply a block of wood in a frame but an assembly of parts that must all be of fire resistant standard, including the hardware (locks, latches, hinges, etc.) and any glazing.
Certified FD30 fire door leaves are of solid timber construction; they are available in standard sizes or can be custom made to individual specifications. It is simple to configure and purchase British made fire doors on-line, using the Safelincs Six-Step approach.
Smoke is the silent killer and poses more of a threat to life and property than heat and flames, especially in the early stages of a fire. Fire doors should therefore be fitted with smoke seals, to prevent the ingress of smoke around the door edges.
Intumescent seals are also required; these remain dormant under normal conditions but expand greatly in the heat of a fire to close the gap between the fire door and its frame. It is common for smoke and intumescent seals to be supplied as an integrated unit.
As noted above, it is important that fire doors on an escape route can self-close; they must therefore be fitted with an automatic closing device. It goes without saying that a fire door should never be propped or wedged open; the practice, though frequently observed, is both unsafe and unlawful.
If, however, during the normal business of the day it is more efficient to keep the fire door open, it can be done with a dedicated door retainer. One example is the battery operated Dorgard: easily and quickly fitted, it allows the fire door to be held open at any angle, but releases the door to close when it hears a continuous alarm of 65 decibels or more. Other door-holding methods often need to be wired into the fire alarm system.
Doors which would operate automatically should be marked with a sign reading either "Automatic Fire Door Keep Clear" or "Automatic Fire Door Keep Clear, Close At Night".
Installation and maintenance
Although a competent professional can install a fire door, it is recommended that the work be carried out under the auspices of the Accredited Fire Door Installers Scheme. This will ensure that the installation is carried out correctly, safely and in compliance with current Building Regulations.
Regular maintenance of your fire doors is also very important; plus, they should always be closed when the church is empty and locked. It is also recommended that doors are inspected routinely to ensure that the door closes properly and that all intumescent strips and smoke seals are in place and free from damage.