By Kristin Bigda, P.E.
Fire door assemblies are critical components to protecting occupants and buildings during a fire event. They may be less talked about than more commonly recognized building fire protection systems such as automatic sprinklers, fire alarms, and smoke detectors, but fire doors, if installed and maintained properly, will keep fire contained to the area of the building in which it started, allowing occupants more time to move to a point of safety quickly, while simultaneously protecting other areas of your facility from fire spread.
Over time, fire doors can be subjected to significant wear and tear. While considered passive fire protection systems, fire doors, depending on their location, may open and close hundreds of times per day for necessary building operations and movement. Thus, the reason that facility personnel play such a critical role in ensuring that fire doors are maintained in good working condition after they are installed. Ongoing scrutiny by the facility manager ensures that wear and tear on fire doors does not lead to any unsafe breaks or damage, or at the very least, provides building personnel with the best opportunity to identify where repairs or replacements are needed.
NFPA 80 Standard on Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives requires a visual inspection and operational testing of fire doors at any of the following times: upon completion of installation of the new fire door assembly, annually as part of the required periodic inspection, and after any maintenance corrections have been performed on the door assembly. To complete a visual inspection, a list of 13 items, at a minimum, must be verified. At the time of the inspection, fire doors should also be tested to ensure that they will operate properly. Inspection entails verification that the door is self-closing and self-latching without encountering any obstructions. If a fire door is power-operated or automatic-closing, it should also be verified that the door self-closes by all means of activation. Records of these inspections and tests must be signed and maintained at the facility and kept for verification by the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
During the life of the fire door, proper maintenance is also required to uphold the fire door assembly in good working condition and to increase the chances that it will perform properly in a fire. Fire doors with operational deficiencies or extensive damage run the risk of leaving an opening unprotected during a fire and can ultimately void the protection that fire door assemblies offer. Repairs should be made, and any defects that could interfere with operation should be corrected without delay. If you are considering any modifications to a fire door that may void the label on that door – take caution or better yet, refer to NFPA 80 which provides detailed guidance on what to do if changes are being made.
Facility personnel, fire door inspectors, and enforcing officials each bear responsibility for doors staying functional and safe. Each party should be equally committed to ensuring that required fire door inspections, testing, and maintenance are carried out in a timely manner.
Safety begins with facility managers or designated safety personnel overseeing and scheduling the necessary inspections and ensuring that any deficiencies and maintenance issues are corrected in a timely manner. It is also the responsibility of building staff to designate in-house expertise or hire external contractors who are qualified to do general maintenance of fire doors within their facility.
The second line of defense lies with those who perform fire door inspections and testing. These professionals are deemed qualified if they possess a recognized degree or certificate, or if they have achieved some professional standing or skill that underscores that they have the knowledge, training, and experience necessary to assess and provide fire door inspections. Qualified fire door inspectors may be external vendors or appointed internally by the facility to perform the required inspections and testing on all fire door assemblies throughout the building. Any way you look at it, they must be educated on the provisions of NFPA 80 and the components and operation of fire door assemblies,
The AHJ completes the fire door safety picture. First, they verify that those performing routine inspections at the facility are competent to do so. Then they ensure that fire door inspections have occurred at the required intervals and that the records have been retained to properly document inspections.
When working together, building owners, fire door inspectors, and AHJs make certain that fire door assemblies throughout a building remain in full working condition and that they are fully capable of operating properly under fire conditions.
Without question, building owners and facility managers juggle a lot of tasks. Most of their responsibilities center around two basic principles: protecting people and property.
To help those charged with building safety ensure positive outcomes, NFPA has developed online training that emphasizes the basic knowledge required to conduct high level inspections of swinging fire doors with builders’ hardware. This online learning utilizes simulations and video and covers the 13 items that must be verified during inspection. Learners will also receive one-on-one instruction from an expert during a job scenario and emerge from the course with a step-by-step instruction checklist, as well as a list of common deficiencies for each part of the fire door safety process. NFPA’s new online learning, much like the standard itself, is designed to help facility managers and others optimize fire door safety in buildings.
Bigda, P.E., is the technical lead for building and life safety, and principal fire protection engineer in the Technical Services Division at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). She manages the allocation of technical resources and contributes to and oversees the development of technical, stakeholder-driven content for NFPA’s portfolio of building and life safety related products and services. Previously, Bigda worked with NFPA’s Technical Committees developing the Fire Code, Life Safety Code, Building Construction and Safety Code, and opening protectives standards. Prior to joining the NFPA staff in 2007, she attended WPI where she received degrees of Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and Master of Science in Fire Protection Engineering. Bigda is also a registered Professional Engineer in the discipline of Fire Protection in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.