Every building should be reviewed on its own merit when incorporating fire doors. In this article we look at some key points to consider when incorporating them into a design in commercial, residential and accessible projects.
Fire Doors in Commercial Settings
In commercial settings, fire safety is more stringent when compared to requirements in a domestic setting. A fire risk assessment will be carried out by a qualified auditor/assessor, which is usually as early as being involved in the design process, to assessing an existing building and formulating a report with specific recommendations. In many cases on large building projects and commercial settings, a fire officer would comment on the design of the means of escape proposed.
Fire Doors in Domestic Settings
In domestic settings for a person’s home, this is less common and the checking of fire warning systems and means of escape is the responsibility of a homeowner.
In rented accommodation it is the responsibility of the building owner or landlord, and necessary checks are usually organised and monitored by the estate agents.
When changes are made to a home, the works may need to be assessed with regards to fire safety and come under the Building Regulations, specifically “Part B – Fire Safety – Approved Document B – Volume 1: Dwellings”. This sets out criteria for fire warning systems, means of escapes and fire doors.
Homes attract different requirements depending on their layout, i.e. accessing an escape through another room, floor levels (a home with more than one additional floor level, i.e. more than a ground and first floor, will require fire doors to the first and second, third etc floors, to all “habitable rooms”, i.e. bedrooms (not bathrooms and store cupboards), to protect the means of escape). This means that someone on the top floor is protected to reach the ground floor via the stairwell to escape through a final point of exit – and outside opening door. Protecting the stairwell is a key part to means of escape, and fire doors play a key part in it.
When planned construction work is produced on “technical drawings”, these are submitted to the local authority or approved building inspector to assess and approve. This is usually carried out by Building Control employed by the local council; but can also be carried out by an approved inspector, who may be a private firm.
They will assess the drawings and amongst many other aspects of the building regulations, they will also assess the fire safety of the building. They will look at not only the use of fire doors and means of escape, but also at the materials being used, to avoid the “surface spread of flame”, a poignant reminder on the Grenfell Towers was the issue on flames spreading quickly, and the materials used have been brought in to question, amongst many other aspects.
When a home is altered, it needs to be assessed on its individual merits and part of that is considering who the home is for.
The building in question would need to be individually assessed, as each building is different in size, layout and type, and in the case of an older building will have been altered at some point in its lifetime, where previous owners may have carried out “DIY” which may need correcting, to meet appropriate legislation.
Fire Doors in Accessible Homes
In a setting where the occupier is a wheelchair person, a person with limited mobility, deaf, sight impaired or in any other vulnerable position with respects to escaping safely from their home in the event of an emergency, special consideration should be given on how a person will safely escape, in a worst case scenario.
The “worst case scenario” is commonly considered to be when the occupier is asleep, so a variety of alarms are considered to warn someone of danger. This can be done by sound alarm, flashing lights and other specialist items like vibrating pillows. Typically speaking, the location of the kitchen is considered as a key aspect, as well as any other likely sources of a fire. The building as a whole should be considered on means of escape, to “walk through” how a person would escape in a variety of situations or locations within their home.
This process is considered very early in the design process, and typically F+A would discuss such matters with the family, Occupational Therapists, Case Manager or other care members, on what/how they would escape from a home. Whereas legislation applies to a home with regards to fire escape, these standards represent the “minimum” requirements, and therefore the design of a home for a person living with a disability with regards to fire escape, will likely need to be designed “over and above” minimum requirements, to compensate for a more complex and slower escape.
This may mean introducing forms of alarms and protection into a home, that may not necessarily be required in a “standard home”.
For a person living with a disability, depending on the severity of the impairment, there will be an increased amount of time required to escape out of a home. “Rapid escape” options are provided in bedrooms through outward opening doors, which are sufficiently wide enough to escape swiftly if required. In most cases, F+A also recommend that escape doors are sufficiently wide enough for a specialist bed (which are often on wheels) to be pushed out of the doors to safety. This therefore requires the bedroom of the person with a disability to be located on the ground floor of a property.
In a scenario where a person living with a disability is on an upper storey, alternative options need to be considered as in the event of a fire, most through floor lifts and stair lifts are not suitable for use. In such a scenario, a planned escape would need to be put in place with the use of an “EVAC chair”, stretchers and even escape chutes.
In all cases, when a design is agreed and approved by the appropriate inspectors, prior to implementation of the works on the home, the design will be reviewed if possible by the council’s fire safety officer. A method statement on how the person would escape or would be helped to escape would be provided to the local fire department who would be informed of a vulnerable person living at the address, to prioritise accordingly.
With regards to fire doors themselves, these can be provided with a variety of different specifications and ratings. They can offer from 30 minutes up to 60 minutes fire protection when closed. They typically have an intumescent strip supplied to the perimeter of the door and casing, which “swells” in the event of a fire to keep smoke out of the protected area, or to keep in the room where the source of fire started. Fire doors require an “automative closer”, which can be a chain and weight within the door itself (so you cannot see the self-closer), or the standard types that are typically fitted above doors. A fire door cannot work unless it is closed, so it is important they remain shut when not in use.
There are times when such doors are “propped open”, and although this is less than ideal, in a home setting it is understandable that this may happen. With this in mind, it is important that this is discussed with the client and the various stake holders as part of the design process. If it is agreed that this is likely to happen, options should be considered. One way to mitigate this is to allow these doors to be “propped open” using magnets, which “release” when an alarm sounds and close to provide protection. This is very similar to what are present in schools and other buildings that require uninterrupted access for fluid crowd movements.
Whereas fire doors are an essential part of the fire safety process, they are in effect the “last line of defence”. A key part of a design process with regards to fire safety is ensuring that the occupiers can escape as quickly as possible, without having to rely on the fire doors themselves.
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