This article was published in the January 2015 issue of Locksmith Ledger.
Fire doors are a vital part of a building’s passive fire protection system. When properly installed and maintained, they will help to compartmentalize a building to protect occupants and property from the spread of smoke, flames, and toxic gases, and aid in providing a safe means of egress during a fire. However, something as minor as the installation of a fail-safe electric strike rather than a fail-secure model can render the fire door assembly ineffective, potentially endangering the lives of the building’s occupants. Conducting regular inspections and making the necessary repairs can mitigate the risk and liability of having fire doors that may not function properly in an emergency.
Inspection and Testing
Although a jurisdiction may not be officially enforcing the annual inspection requirements that were introduced in the 2007 edition of NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, fire door assemblies are required by code to be in good working order. Inspecting newly installed fire door assemblies (a requirement of the 2013 edition of NFPA 80) ensures the building owner has a code-compliant installation to begin with, or allows any deficiencies to be identified and repaired during the warranty period.
The 2013 edition of NFPA 80 includes thirteen criteria for the inspection and testing of door, shutter, and window assemblies upon completion of their installation, and also upon completion of maintenance work on fire door assemblies. The following criteria are evaluated during a fire door inspection.
- Labels are present and legible.
- No holes or breaks in door or frame.
- Glazing and glass kit / glass beads are intact and securely fastened.
- Door, frame, and hardware are in proper working order.
- No missing or broken parts.
- Door clearances are within allowable limits.
- Door closer / spring hinges are operational and door is self-closing.
- Coordinator ensures that door leaves close in proper sequence (pairs only).
- Door is self-latching in the closed position.
- Opening is not equipped with auxiliary hardware items which interfere with operation.
- No field modifications have been performed that void the label.
- Gasketing and edge seals, where required, are present, continuous, and of the proper type for a fire door.
- Signage on door covers less than 5% of door face and is not attached with mechanical fasteners.
As in previous editions of NFPA 80, any deficiencies noted during the inspection process must be repaired “without delay.” Records of these inspections must be retained for at least three years, and the media used must be able to survive for the required retention period.
Common Fire Door Code Violations
There are any number of ways that a fire door could cease to be compliant, from simple lack of maintenance to creative modifications. The Door Security & Safety Foundation, an organization that exists to promote secure and safe openings that enhance life safety, has identified the ten most common deficiencies:
- Painted or missing fire door labels
- Poor clearance dimensions around the perimeter of the door in the closed position
- Kick-down door holders installed on the door
- Auxiliary hardware items that interfere with the intended function of the door
- Fire doors blocked to stay in the open position
- Area surrounding the fire door assembly blocked by furniture, equipment and/or boxes
- Broken, defective or missing hardware items (latch bolts and/or strike plates, closer arms, cover plates, etc)
- Fire exit hardware installed on doors that are not labeled for use with fire exit hardware
- Missing or incorrect fasteners
- Bottom flush bolts that do not project a sufficient amount into the strike
Modifications of fire door assemblies in the field can also create problems. Job-site alterations are limited by NFPA 80 to preparations for surface-applied hardware, function holes for mortise locks, holes for labeled viewers, installation of protection plates, and a maximum ¾-inch wood and composite door undercutting. Holes drilled in the field are limited to 1-inch diameter, with the exception of cylinder holes which can be any size. Additional field modifications would require permission from the listing laboratory.
If holes are left in a fire door assembly when hardware is removed, those holes must be filled with steel fasteners or the same material as the door or frame. There is also a fire door caulk now available for use in filling small holes in wood doors. Other modifications should not be made in the field without prior approval, unless the doors will be relabeled by the listing laboratory.
The 2007 edition of NFPA 80 (and all subsequent editions) requires fire door assemblies be inspected each year by someone knowledgeable about the type of assembly being inspected. The 2013 edition added a requirement for the inspections to be performed by a “qualified person” with this knowledge and understanding. This term was defined as follows:
Qualified Person. A person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, professional standing or skill, and who, by knowledge, training, and experience has demonstrated the ability to deal with the subject matter, the work, or the project.
For anyone who may be considering adding fire door inspection to their list of available services, training programs are available through the Door and Hardware Institute (www.dhi.org) and the Associated Locksmiths of America (www.aloa.org) in partnership with the International Fire Door Inspector Association (www.IFDIA.org). The Intertek Qualified Personnel (IQP) Program (www.intertek.com/iqp/) offers a certification for fire door assembly inspectors who have successfully completed the DHI program.
One of the greatest challenges has been the delay in adoption and enforcement of the inspection requirements, although increased awareness is now evident and many fire door inspectors are helping to educate building owners and code officials about the requirements. There is no code-related restriction on having the same person or company conduct the inspection and then make the needed repairs, although some facilities may prefer to keep these functions separate. Another concern is whether additional liability is incurred when doing an inspection. That question is best answered by an insurance professional.
The bottom line is that fire doors must be kept in code-compliant condition, regardless of whether inspection requirements are being enforced. It’s in the best interest of locksmiths who perform commercial and institutional work to understand the requirements for these doors and advise their customers what needs to be done to repair deficiencies so they will function as designed in the event of a fire.
The purpose of a fire door is to compartmentalize a building and prevent the spread of smoke and flames. The door shown in these photos protected a nature center and management offices from a fire that began in the maintenance shop. Photos courtesy of Fire Protection Specialist Christopher Taylor, NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control.