It’s Fire Door Safety Week in the UK, and I can’t help but wonder why the US is so far behind in educating the public about the value of fire doors. It’s a shame, really. The codes which require code-compliant fire door assemblies – including the necessary maintenance – have been in place for many decades. Fire doors, frames, and hardware are tested, listed, and labeled to ensure that they will perform as designed during a fire.

Fire Door Safety WeekWe know that a closed and latched fire door will help to deter the spread of smoke, flames, and toxic gases, and yet we still see fire doors propped open with wood wedges or other more creative means, and latching hardware that is damaged or has been removed. These problems, and other fire door deficiencies, negatively impact the ability of the assembly to perform properly – a blocked-open fire door is absolutely worthless.

Although fire door assemblies are provided for locations where opening protectives are required by code, in the past there was no process to confirm that the openings were installed correctly, or that they were maintained through the lifetime of the building. What’s the point of specifying, manufacturing, and supplying a fire door with a door closer and fire exit hardware if someone modifies the device to hold the latch retracted or disables the door closer? As we have seen in numerous Wordless Wednesday and Fixed-it Friday posts, this is a common practice. Are we installing fire doors just for “show,” with no credence given to their importance for protecting lives and property?

Enter the 2007 edition of NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.  The fire door inspection requirements included in this standard seemed to be the answer to the problem of poorly-maintained fire doors. These requirements have been updated several times since, and in a nutshell, fire door assemblies must be inspected after installation, after maintenance work, and also annually, by a qualified person, with a checklist of 13 criteria (originally 11 criteria).  NFPA 80 is THE standard for fire doors, and is referenced by the International Building Code, the International Fire Code, NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, and other model codes.  (There’s more information about fire doors in this video.)

Jurisdictions that have adopted a version of these codes that references the 2007, 2010, or 2013 edition of NFPA 80 for installation and maintenance of fire door assemblies have adopted the inspection requirements unless the code has been modified to exclude the annual inspections. And why would a jurisdiction purposely exclude inspections that are necessary to ensure our protection?

One objection I have heard is that the fire marshals are already stretched thin and do not have the manpower to inspect every fire door.  Adding these inspections to the fire marshals’ responsibilities was not the intent of the inspection requirements – there are fire door inspectors who have experience with doors, frames, hardware, and an understanding of the codes, who have been trained to conduct these inspections. Many fire door inspectors also conduct training for facilities staff to help them understand how to keep their fire doors compliant, and why it’s important to do so.

Typically when a code change is made and that code is adopted, there is no question about whether a jurisdiction will enforce the change. For example, the IBC currently requires panic hardware for doors serving Assembly and Educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 or more. Prior to 2006 the IBC required panic hardware on these occupancies when the occupant load was 100 or more. The current requirement means that panic hardware is required for rooms half the size (which means a lot more doors have panic hardware), but I have not seen any code officials making a judgment call about whether they should enforce the 50-person requirement, or relax the rules and stick with the old 100-person requirement. So why is it taking so long to see widespread enforcement of the fire door inspection requirement?

Check out the Fire Door Safety Week website for some ideas about how we can promote fire door safety in the US.  And take a minute to remember Sophie Rosser, a young woman who would likely be alive today if not for a a faulty fire door…

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