Evacuation from a building - what is the role of fire doors during fire?

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A fire may occur at any time, regardless of the efforts of people responsible for the condition of the building and its protection. It applies mainly to public buildings where many people stay every day. A high number of temporary users and high turnover (in particular for mass events held in buildings or traffic points) make it difficult to detect and neutralise hazards. During the fire not only the detectors play an important role, as they are the first ones to communicate a hazard, but also other elements of fire safety. One of them are fire doors that should meet the essential technical requirements.

Fire doors guarantee quick escape

Appropriately selected and installed fire doors, meeting all technical requirements, ensure instant evacuation. Owing to such doors people staying in the building can leave the area of hazard quickly and enter the escape route faster than while using standard doors. It is determined by such aspects as the door width and the width of door leaves. Once the doors are fully opened, the width of the escape route mustn’t be limited by the door leaves – and if such requirements are met, evacuation is easier.

The basic role of fire doors is to separate two areas - a safe one and the area where fire can spread. A fire signalling system also plays an important role. The fire doors should be connected to the system which could send the signal to the holders and the doors will be automatically closed if fire occurs. This way the fire area is separated from other rooms and people staying in the building can be evacuated safely.

Fire doors: essential technical requirements

Fire doors must meet a number of requirements. The requirements apply to the door size, which depends on the number of people to be evacuated through the door, if hazard occurs. If the number of people is estimated as 300 or more, the doors should be featured with a panic bar. It helps to open the door by pressing the bar with one's hand or the whole body, if necessary. There is no need to use keys or access cards and evacuation is quick and efficient. The same applies  to the rooms where children stay. In other cases, if not instructed otherwise, panic hardware is used. If the doors are equipped with a handle, it must be a U-form safety door handle.

Fire doors in the escape route must not be revolving or lift up. It is possible to install sliding doors but only if it meets specific construction requirements. It must be opened both automatically and manually and must not be possible to block. Additionally, when a fire is signalled, the doors should automatically slide open and remain open to facilitate evacuation.

But these are not the only requirements. There are also specific standards concerning fire classes, which range from EI 30 to EI 120. The fire resistance of fire doors is assumed to be a half of the fire resistance of the wall it is mounted in.

Efficient evacuation vs access to fire doors

It often happens that fire doors are installed in staircases. Access control plays a crucial role in such cases as it is supposed to prevent unauthorised access. Access control doors are always closed so the necessary solution is to ensure immediate and trouble-free evacuation if hazard occurs. To that end it is recommended to avoid using aversive electric door strikes as they make effective evacuation impossible. It is better to use reversible electric door strikes which should be mounted above the main lock and which unlock if there is no power supply.

Note: fire doors mustn’t be featured with elements that do not match fire protection elements. One should also remember not to obstruct the fire doors and that the doors should open towards the intended direction of evacuation.