Last week I wrote about fire doors vs. fire exits, and I mentioned that I would try to change/clarify the Merriam-Webster definition for “fire-exit bolt.”  I received this Quick Question:

What IS a fire-exit bolt? 

Great question!  Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

I believe this definition is referring to panic hardware, which is also called an exit device.  Although the ANSI/BHMA Standard A156.3 uses the term “exit devices”, I prefer “panic hardware” because this term is defined in the model codes.  The definition for panic hardware from the International Building Code (IBC): A door-latching assembly incorporating a device that releases the latch upon the application of a force in the direction of egress travel. See “Fire exit hardware.”

The term “fire exit hardware” is also defined…in short, this is a type of panic hardware that may be installed on fire doors.  The IBC definition:  Panic hardware that is listed for use on fire door assemblies.

There are a few things about the Merriam-Webster definition that are confusing:

  • Since the term “fire exit” is not defined in the model codes or in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it’s not clear which doors this hardware is required for.
  • One could argue that panic hardware does not incorporate a “bolt” in the normal use of the word with regard to hardware, as this would typically refer to a deadbolt.  Most panic hardware has latches rather than bolts.
  • While panic hardware is used on “exit doors” AKA doors in a means of egress, there are specific locations where panic hardware is required.  It is not required for all public buildings.
    • The IBC requires panic hardware for doors that lock or latch and serve an assembly or educational occupancy with an occupant load of 50 people or more, or a high hazard occupancy with any occupant load.
    • NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code requires panic hardware for doors that lock or latch and serve an assembly, educational, or day care occupancy with an occupant load of 100 people ore more, or an area of high hazard contents with an occupant load of more than 5.
    • There are additional locations such as doors serving rooms housing electrical equipment and refrigeration machinery rooms that are required to have panic hardware.

So the term fire-exit bolt is intended to mean panic hardware, and fire exit hardware is a type of panic hardware that can be used on fire doors.  Using the terms defined in the model codes will help to clarify the meaning and reduce confusion.

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