fire doors

Most people are familiar with the presence of fire detection and protection equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire alarms in a building. But not all fire prevention and protection measures are as apparent. Most building users will probably not even be aware of the passive fire protection that’s all around them such as fire doors - so what is it and what is its contribution in keeping people safe from fire?

The role of passive fire protection

Passive fire protection is so called because it isn’t something that is activated in response to a fire. Instead, it forms part of the building’s construction and its role centres around containment; the core principle is that passive fire protection ensures that sections within a building are essentially turned into sealed units. That means that if a fire should ever break out, its progression and the associated spread of smoke will be slowed down, and the risk of the building collapsing will be reduced. That provides vital time for building users to evacuate.

Passive fire protection takes several forms, such as fire-resistant walls, floors, partitions and ceilings. It also includes fire doors and smoke barriers. The way this kind of protection is configured is specific to each building, determined by factors such as building use and lay out, along with any particular considerations relating to the building users themselves. And while its presence may not always be immediately obvious, its absence or failure to perform correctly can have serious consequences.

In 2018 an arsonist set fire to the public toilets at Nottingham’s newly refurbished Railway Station. The fire went on to spread rapidly and burned for more than 12 hours. While there was some dispute over the extent of its contribution, it was believed that one of the factors that enabled the fire to spread rapidly was inadequate compartmentalisation. The wall in the public toilets should have had a compartment that provided 60 minutes of fire containment but a gap in it allowed the fire to take hold more quickly.

Passive fire protection isn’t just a vital defence in large buildings either, it’s essential in smaller buildings too. Fire doors were one of the failings highlighted in this recent prosecution that took place following a large blaze in a house of multiple occupation. The fire destroyed the entire house but fortunately no one was hurt, although it was initially believed that someone was trapped inside, forcing firefighters to put themselves in danger by conducting a full search. Amongst the list of offences was the failure to provide “a safe means of escape from the premises adequately protected by fire doors”. The landlady received a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

Are all elements of your passive fire protection still fit for purpose?

In fact, the fundamental role of passive fire protection such as fire doors is something that our engineers have been highlighting recently while out on site visits. It’s a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to make sure that fire doors, and escape doors, are fit for purpose. And that means making sure they have been installed correctly and are maintained on an ongoing basis.

While ongoing visual checks can be done by the people responsible for fire safety in the building, when it comes to full inspection and corrective maintenance, as with all other forms of fire prevention and detection equipment, it must be done by a trained and competent individual. As far as fire doors are concerned, British Standards recommend an inspection every six months – but be mindful that this is a guide. If you occupy a building where there is a high footfall for example, the wear and tear on the doors will be greater and could compromise their effectiveness sooner. It’s better to be guided through the risk assessment process in terms of the regularity needed. And make sure that you never overlook the importance of other elements of compartmentalisation either. If a partition, wall or ceiling looks damaged and that damage has created a gap for instance, make sure you have it repaired quickly so you are not compromising its ability to contain fire.

If you need further advice about passive fire protection in your premises, please get in touch. If you are concerned that your fire doors might not be up to the job of protecting your building and the people who use it, we offer a comprehensive Fire Door Inspection service, please find more details here; or alternatively contact your local branch if you would like to book an inspection.