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June-July  2004

Code/Concerns

Heated Actions
Door Safety Council Explores Fire Door Performance
by michael fischer

Amid the debate concerning the relative merits of passive versus active fire protection systems lies a common thread. Fire-event studies performed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have shown that automatic sprinkler systems are not always reliable and often fail to perform during fires. Passive systems, including fire and smoke doors, rely on proper maintenance to ensure their performance when needed.

Maintenance Requirements
The 2003 International Fire Code (IFC) contains maintenance requirements for opening protectives including fire and smoke barrier doors. Section 703.2 of the IFC reads:

“Opening protectives shall be maintained in an operative condition in accordance with NFPA 80. Fire doors and smoke barrier doors shall not be blocked or obstructed or otherwise made inoperable. Fusible links shall be replaced promptly whenever fused or damaged. Fire door assemblies shall not be modified.”

While this language and similar requirements in the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, indicate the need to ensure that opening protectives will operate correctly, there is no code requirement for follow-up inspections to verify their proper condition. With the continued attention to life safety and building performance during fire events, the fire door industry is examining the need for inspection requirements similar to those in place for rolling and sliding fire doors. 

Fire Egress Integrity
Over the past year, the door and hardware industries have been exploring the issue of fire door performance and maintenance issues. A coalition of representatives from the Window and Door Manufacturers Association, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, the Builder’s Hardware Manufacturer’s Association, the Door and Hardware Institute, the Steel Door Institute and other stakeholders have met to explore the feasibility of a mandatory inspection program for fire and smoke barrier door assemblies. Doors used as required means of egress components have also been included in the discussion. In fact, a task group for the means of egress section of the NFPA 101 document has met several times to make recommendations on means of egress door inspection programs. In a meeting held in May, the task group agreed on conceptual language that would be added to NFPA 101 requiring mandatory inspections by qualified persons for these door assemblies. Additional requirements to maintain inspection records on site to be available to the authority having jurisdiction were also included in the discussion.

The need for clear language clarifying maintenance and inspection requirements is not limited to NFPA 101. Performance specifications in NFPA 80 and the IFC fall short of either requiring mandatory inspections or outlining approved procedures and inspector training. 

The industry groups have been working to evaluate the need to provide guidance to the industry. This activity has resulted in the forming of the Door Safety Council. 

The groups mission is to “improve life safety and property protection through an industry effort to implement an inspection process for side hinged exit and fire-rated door assemblies.” The mission and preliminary program concepts were presented to the industry in April at the BHMA Industry Summit.

While the Door Safety Council has been able to identify many of the key issues related to this complex problem, much work lies ahead. Questions remain regarding the potentially massive scope—and cost to building owners—of such an ambitious project. The actual technical justification for any code or standards proposal will require the industry to identify not just the problem, but also the solution. Mandatory inspection requirements without the necessary infrastructure in terms of qualified, trained inspectors and administrators will not have the intended results. 

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