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Risk Insights header image In the event that a fire occurs at your commercial property, having measures in place to slow the spread of the flames and minimize potential damages is crucial.

That’s where fire doors can help. These doors are specifically designed to withstand the extreme heat of a fire for a period of time, temporarily blocking flames from traveling from one area of a building to another.

Considering that time is of the essence when it comes to keeping a fire under control, these doors can make all the difference in allowing additional building occupants to safely escape the premises and preventing property damage. Yet, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards—namely, NFPA 80—emphasize that fire doors must be routinely inspected and adequately maintained in order to be effective.

Review the following guidance to learn more about how fire doors work and best practices for keeping these doors fully operational.

How Fire Doors Work

A fire door consists of multiple components—including the door, door frame, hinges, handle and additional hardware. Collectively, these parts are designed to withstand fire exposures for a set period of time, slowing the spread of flames and smoke throughout different sections of the affected property.

Fire doors can vary in size, materials and layout (e.g., a swinging, sliding, hinged or rolling door). These doors are typically utilized within the wall openings and stairwells of buildings. Installing fire doors in wall openings can help keep flames from spreading to additional areas on the same floor of a property. Implementing these doors in stairwells can deter a fire from traveling between different stories of a property and potentially allow additional building occupants to safely escape via the stairs. Fire doors can also provide firefighters with better access to the property overall, bolstering fire suppression efforts.

Each fire door is designed to meet the standards of its resistance rating, which represents how long the door can actually withstand fire exposures before eventually succumbing to the heat and smoke. This rating is determined through various testing procedures, and applies not only to the door, but also to its collective parts. Fire door resistance ratings can range from 20 minutes to three hours. For example, if the door can withstand fire exposures for one hour, then it will be rated as a one-hour fire door.

Fire doors are also considered in the process of establishing a property’s fire divisions. While some buildings only consist of a single fire division, a property may contain multiple fire divisions if there are measures in place to limit a fire from reaching different areas of the building—such as a fire door.

With this in mind, properties with approved fire divisions by way of fire doors in place may benefit from reduced commercial insurance rates, seeing as there is a lower risk of a fire spreading across the entirety of the building. On the other hand, properties that remove or don’t incorporate fire doors and thus lack multiple fire divisions may encounter higher commercial insurance rates, since a fire is increasingly likely to affect the entire building and result in more severe damages.

Maintaining Fire Doors

While fire doors can certainly offer numerous advantages to a property, it’s important to note that these doors must be properly maintained to remain effective. In particular, some fire doors need to stay fully closed in order to work. Otherwise, flames and smoke will easily travel through any openings, defeating the purpose of the doors altogether.

However, fire doors that are equipped with fusible links—which are heat-activated devices designed to ensure that such doors adequately close in the presence of a fire—do not need to stay shut at all times. In these circumstances, the doors can be kept open as long as there are no obstructions (e.g., a door wedge) in the way that could potentially prevent them from closing when necessary. Keep in mind that most rolling fire doors are equipped with fusible links.

In addition to keeping fire doors closed or unobstructed, NFPA 80 also outlines the following installation, inspection and maintenance requirements:

  • Ensure all fire doors at your property contain a fire label and resistance rating from Underwriter Laboratories or Warnock Hersey—both of which are trusted safety certification organizations.
  • Only allow a competent, qualified contractor to install fire doors or make modifications to existing fire doors at your property. Modifying a fire door with the wrong components or hardware could result in the door becoming ineffective and losing its resistance rating. Also, be sure to consult the contractor about the possibility of equipping your fire doors with fusible links.
  • Regularly inspect fire doors for potential damages (e.g., large gaps, broken seals, loose hinges or missing screws). Further, make sure that each door can connect firmly to its latch without getting stuck on the frame before fully closing. Schedule repairs when necessary.
  • Have a certified professional conduct a visual inspection and—in the case of rolling doors—a drop test (a test that confirms the door works as it should and completely closes) on your property’s fire doors at least once every year. Based on the results, schedule repairs and make door replacements as needed.

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This Risk Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2021 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.