Monday, October 7, 2013

Fire doors, do they know to keep them closed?

Fire Prevention Week is the perfect time to get out and spread the message. The great people at the NFPA do a wonderful job of making sure a theme is ready to roll. For those departments that have a Fire Prevention Division, utilizing the NFPA theme each year can create diversity in your programs from one year to the next. For those of us that must combine prevention and suppression activities, this can be a daunting task.

National Fire Prevention Week gives us an "in" we may not have the rest of the year. The private and public sector may have internal communications, drills and other events concerning fire prevention that they have asked us to attend. Many times this is our one shot to share the message so we must make it count. Personally, as much as I would love to talk fire prevention every day, we simply cannot spend the time. While we have their attention, reinforce topics that help us if we do respond to a fire emergency. One of those key topics is Door Control!

We have been reminded here as of late about the importance of controlling the door to limit the amount of available air to the fire. John Shafer has really reinforced this message not only to the fire service, but the public as well. "We cannot control how much fuel is in a compartment and we cannot always control the heat. We can limit fire growth through controlling/closing doors" as he recently told me. People will always have "stuff" and we cannot always immediately get to the source of heat with our fire streams, but when we reduce the amount of air that the fire needs to grow by utilizing closed doors, we buy time for occupant rescue and fire control.

Door control is not just for the front door of the single family home. Office complexes and commercial buildings are just as, if not more critical! In fact, they are so important that NFPA has several standards in regards to the types of doors and their required positions based on occupancy.

In many buildings that house a significant population, a successful means of fire control is compartmentalization. Fire doors are a key feature. NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives outlines much of the requirements for the construction of these fire protection components. One critical aspect is the ability of these doors to close on their own. This can be self-closing, automatic and powered. This in turn means they cannot be obstructed or blocked in anyway. If the door is unable to fully close, it will not be able to perform its intended function, the stopping heat and smoke from spreading. Other NFPA standards to review include 1, 101 and 5000, when it comes to the requirements of fire doors.

One common configuration you may encounter and should speak on, is the corridor. Fire doors that break up long hallways into sections must be able to close and provide its intended purpose. These also include doors that lead to stairwells that access upper/lower levels. (As Fire Service Professionals we can certainly urge the building owners to ensure annual fire door inspections are performed, however this can be outside the realm of Fire Prevention activities. These points fit in better with Fire Inspection/Survey tasks.) Educate those who occupy the space to always ensure these doors can open properly and close without assistance. They must be able to latch, which in turn keeps them closed. Ensure they understand these doors should not be blocked open unless they are constantly attended while doing any work in the area.

Office or room doors, although they may not be true fire doors, can still be utilized to reduce fire growth. Let them know that it is good practice to close these doors when they go home or when they are out of the office.

Be creative in your methods of conveying this important fire education message. Coach occupants to ensure doors close if you asist with fire drills. Even briefly speaking with building managers can help shape a healthy practice of closing doors and spotting those they are not working. Closed fire doors not only help stop the spread of fire but also ensure any other passive and active fire protection equipment performs as intended.

A life can be saved through the simple act of a closed door.


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