Fire Doors and What You Need to Know: Types, Inspections, and Repairs
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Whether you’re managing a healthcare facility, manufacturing facility, or multi-unit residential facility, maintaining your fire doors is critical to the success of your life safety and fire barrier management programs. Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) like The Joint Commission, DNV, local fire marshals and others have strict and specific requirements not only for how fire doors must operate while in service, but also for how often fire-rated doors are inspected and repaired to be considered compliant, and how the inspection and repairs are documented for proof of compliance.

Should an AHJ survey a facility and find fire doors that have not been corrected, the facility could be at risk of having the non-compliant areas closed until the deficiencies are corrected per NFPA and AHJ standards. This may seem like an extreme reaction, however, if the fire doors and barriers within an important building like a hospital are not properly working and a fire breaks out, it could spread throughout the hospital in minutes resulting in devasting consequences.

What is a fire-rated door? Is there more than one type?
A fire door is a door with a fire-resistance rating used to mitigate the spread of fire and smoke for a specific period of time. Fire doors are one of many integral components that make up a passive fire protection system and must be installed in a rated door frame any time a door is built into a fire-rated wall.

There are a variety of different types of fire doors, with different fire resistance ratings. A fire door that is compliant with NFPA 80 standards can mitigate the spread of fire and smoke for 20 minutes up to 180 minutes depending on the door’s rating. A fire door’s type and rating usually vary throughout a facility depending on where the door is located and what the area is used for.

If you’re not sure where your fire-rated walls and doors are located, check your facility’s life safety drawings. It is important to keep a set of up-to-date life safety plans on hand to make determining where your fire-rated walls and doors are located as easy as possible. Without knowing where your fire-rated doors are, what kind of fire-rated doors you have, and the purpose of your rated doors, it is exceptionally difficult to meet the standards set forth by AHJs.

Fire Door Inspection & Repair Requirements
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has set strict guidelines for how a fire-rated door is inspected, maintained, and repaired for the door to be considered compliant. Facilities must adhere to the fire door requirements outlined in the NFPA’s codebook, NFPA 80. NFPA 80 addresses legal requirements regarding fire-rated doors and dampers, as well as, how different components of the door, such as door closers, hinges, smoke seals, etc, should be installed and maintained. Because the codes and standards outlined in NFPA 80 are expansive and the consequences for non-compliance are high, it has become common and often necessary for facilities to partner with fire code compliance experts when it comes to fire-rated doors to ensure their barriers are compliant.

According to NFPA 80, “all fire door assemblies require annual inspections”. Additionally, facilities are required to have an annual inspection program in place for fire door assemblies. Inspections can be performed by anyone with expert knowledge and understanding of fire door assemblies and the required codes, however, we recommend utilizing an inspector or specialty contractor that is FDAI or CFDAI certified. A qualified inspector will conduct their inspections per NFPA 80 while the AHJ will verify that the building's door assemblies are being inspected and maintained per requirements.

While inspections can be performed by any qualified inspector or 3rd party vendor, the NFPA states that fire door repairs must be performed by experts who have been specifically trained to do so. Fire door repairs are complicated but critical for ensuring the door performs the way it was designed to during a fire/smoke emergency. For example, a fire door with correctly installed and compliant hardware can’t stop fire and smoke if the repair technician fails to install a smoke seal on the door frame per the manufacturer’s specifications. Similarly, a fire door with correctly installed and compliant latching hardware can’t stop a fire and smoke if the repair technician fails to install the correct closers (more on closers below). It’s these details and more that make the NFPA state that only “qualified persons” can perform repairs on fire doors, and what makes managing fire door compliance so challenging for facility and property managers.

Fire Door Closers
NFPA 80 requires that “fire doors and other opening protectives are operable at all times. The operability of these systems includes opening, closing, and latching. Fire doors must be kept closed and latched or arranged to provide automatic closing during the time of a fire. In addition, blocking or wedging of doors in the open position is prohibited, as it violates the required operation and closing feature of the door.” One of the most common door deficiencies that our experts see is fire doors failing to fully close, so we wanted to take a moment to address 3 common types of door closers.

Self-Closing Doors - NFPA 80 3.3.101 states “Doors that, when opened and released, return to the closed position.” This essentially means that when a self-closing door is pushed open, its closing arm will immediately return the door to its original closed position. These types of doors should always be closed except when someone walks through the door.

Automatic-Closing Doors - NFPA 80 3.3.6 – 3.3.7 states “a door that normally is open but that closes when the automatic-closing device is activated.” This means that automatic closing doors are typically open but will automatically close when activated by a fusible link or detector. Fusible links are activated by heat; when the link is exposed to heat it melts and releases the automatic-closing door allowing it to close. The alternative and more reliable trigger is a smoke detector; automatic-closing doors can be activated to close as soon as a smoke detector detects smoke. Per NFPA code, automatic-closing doors must meet the following criteria in order to be used in any given area of a facility.
  • The leaf becomes self-closing upon release of the hold-open mechanism
  • The release device is designed in a way that allows the leaf to instantly release manually and once released becomes self-closing or can be readily closed
  • The automated release mechanism is activated by an approved smoke detector that has been installed per NFPA 72 requirements for smoke detectors for door leaf release service
  • Should a hold-open device lose power, the device will release to allow the door leaf to become self-closing
  • Smoke detection of one door leaf in a stair enclosure will result in closing all door leaves that service the set of stairs

Power-Operated Doors are doors that are open and closed electronically or pneumatically. According to PREVENT, “these types of doors must be equipped with a releasing device that will automatically disconnect the power operator during a fire emergency allowing a self-closing or automatic device to close the door regardless of power failure or manual operation”. This requirement means all power-operated fire doors must be integrated with the building’s approved fire alarm system so that the fire alarm can deactivate and close open doors during a power failure.

Having a preventative door maintenance program in place with a partner like Barrier Compliance Services (BCS) eases the burden of keeping up with your facility's doors, reduces the risk of unexpected repairs, and saves your facility money year-over-year on compliance-related costs. Contact us today to begin planning your next fire-rated door service to ensure compliance and safety within your facility.
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