This is the 4th post in a series about fire doors and the results of a recent (unscientific) survey.

The survey results included some pretty good answers as to what the rules for fire doors might be.  Quite a few people knew that fire doors should be kept closed, but there’s an important clarification I want to make.  Some respondents thought fire doors should be kept closed and never used unless there was an emergency.  I think fire doors are getting confused with emergency exit doors here.  Fire doors are not typically reserved for emergency use, they are doors that you use every day.  With that said, let’s get started on the rules…

Rule #1 – A fire door must be SELF-CLOSING.

I read somewhere recently that the biggest problem with fire doors is that people prop them open or deactivate the door closer.  I have no source for this information so consider it hearsay, but I can tell you that I see this ALL the time.  A fire door will hinder the spread of smoke and fire only if it’s closed when the fire occurs.  Therefore, fire doors must have reliable mechanisms for closing them – preferably door closers.

A door that closes each time it is opened may be inconvenient for some building occupants, so these doors are often propped open.  Fortunately, there are many safe and code-compliant ways to hold a fire door open with devices that release and allow the door to close upon fire alarm or smoke detection.  It will be more expensive to install one of these products instead of using a wood wedge, but we’re talking about peoples’ lives here.

I saw a newspaper article the other day about the Rosepark Care Home in Uddington, Scotland.  The article reported details of an inquiry into a 2004 fire at the nursing home, and one of the major findings was that some of the door closers on residents’ room doors had been disabled.  The open doors allowed the smoke and flames to spread rapidly, resulting in the deaths of 14 elderly patients.  Here’s a short excerpt from that article, which appeared in The Herald – Scotland on January 26, 2010:

“Mr McNeilly said: ‘If a fire develops in one of those rooms that goes undetected, it could easily leave the room and go into the common escape area, which in turn puts all the other rooms at risk in that corridor. So the most important thing in that area is to keep the doors closed.’

Failing to do so could allow smoke and flames to ‘overwhelm’ the corridor, he said, jeopardizing an escape route which the other residents in that area of the home would rely on.

But last week, the inquiry heard that safety closure arms had been removed or disconnected from at least nine residents’ bedroom doors on the ground and lower floors.

Joseph Clark, Rosepark’s former general maintenance manager, said he had done so at the request of relatives, who complained that the heavy fire doors limited the ‘independence’ of some elderly and disabled residents, who would struggle to open them on their own.”

This story clearly illustrates how a fire door assembly inspection could have saved lives, but lives can be saved even without an official inspection.  If you see a fire door that’s held open with a wood wedge, kick down stop, or a more creative means like the ones shown below, bring it to someone’s attention (and send me a photo!)!  Your actions could make the difference!

Chain Holder Fire Extinguisher Bungee Cord

Hard Drive Kitty Wedge Towel

Thank you to Matt Bouchard of Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, and Eyal Bedrik of Entry Systems for some of these photos.

Here’s a link to another article about a 400-unit high rise apartment building fire where the door to the burning apartment was left open, compromising the exits for the building’s occupants.

<– Read the previous post about the survey results.

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