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An open and shut case

Properly fitted fire doors can make the difference between life and death so schools need to make sure they’ve installed the right ones

Posted by Dave Higgitt | October 30, 2014 | Security & safety

Fire safety is a serious topic and effective safety plans, such as evacuation procedures, are essential when it comes to ensuring that a school building is prepared in the event of a fire. The correct installation of the right fire doors, too, is absolutely key to protecting pupils and teachers against the dangers posed by fire. Since properly installed doors will stop or prevent the spread of flames from one area to another, they can play a vital role in enabling people to escape – and when school buildings often house a large number of people, it’s important that these fire doors perform properly the first time – and every time.

That said, however, selecting and installing fire doors which deliver the highest standard of protection can be a complicated matter. In order for the door to perform its job adequately, there are numerous factors to consider. Above all, it must be the right type of door, it must be installed correctly and it must be appropriately maintained.

Building regulations also need to be considered, and the contractors who install the doors have a legal obligation to ensure these standards are adhered to. The regulations apply to all buildings providing education, from nurseries and primaries to secondary schools and sixth-form colleges, in order to ensure that buildings are well protected from the dangers of a fire. As a result, checking the requirements of the building regulations before choosing a fire door is vital.

When it comes to specifying a fire door, the size, material and location must be considered at the earliest stage. The materials the door is made of, for example, may determine the length of time that it can hold back the fire. While the majority of fire doors are made from timber, some are made from steel, aluminium or other materials. The width and weight of the door will depend on where it will be installed, so these must be checked to ensure it fits perfectly within the frame and that the door can remain closed. Again, you should check building regulations to find out exactly what is needed for a particular location. It is also important to think about the hardware and additional components that are required to ensure the door is fit for use and will function correctly in the event of a fire.

It can be difficult to make sure a fire door is closed at all times, particularly in areas such as corridors that are regularly used. As a solution, doors can be fitted with ’magnetic’ hold open devices – these will keep the door open when required, but will allow them to close when the fire alarm goes off or the power supply fails.

All fire doors, though, must be fitted with a self-closing device, which has to be a minimum power size three, so that the door can close from any angle and will be strong enough to overcome the resistance of any latch or lock. The closer should be CE Marked to BS EN 1154 including annex A. Automatic closing doors can present issues if a child is trying to operate them, but electrically powered devices can solve this problem as they can hold open the self-closing door.

Other components that need to be considered include hinges and latches. Latches should ensure that a door stays in place during a fire and hinges should allow the door to close from any angle without any resistance. Hinges should be CE marked to BS EN 1935, including its Annex B, and come with the appropriate intumescent pads to reach the required fire rating. Latches should be CE marked to BS EN 12209, preferably with additional product certification by an approved third party, and again with the appropriate intumescent seals. These intumescent seals, installed in the door or frame, can expand up to ten times their original size, holding the door firmly in place, whilst additional seals to the bottom of the door can prevent smoke from escaping into other rooms.

Choosing the most appropriate products to use is essential, but the installation process also needs to be carried out with care and attention. Products should also be checked for damage that may have occurred during transportation from a supplier – such as bent hinges or chips – as this can affect the door’s performance. If there's any doubt at all about whether the product can perform as required, don't take a chance – replace it before installation begins.

Even after the door has been installed, it will require regular maintenance so it remains in good working condition. Doors should be checked every six months to ensure that they are operating safely and to required standards. Damaged or worn components could result in escape routes becoming blocked and the lives of pupils and teachers being put at risk.

Trade professionals who are unsure about any part of the process can find out more by talking to their fire door supplier. For the most up-to-date advice on compliance matters, look for suppliers who stock the best range of products and are trained to the new FDIS standards. 

Written by Martin Smith, product manager at IronmongeryDirect W:

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