Understanding the Proper Use of Fire Doors
If you are located in one of the many research laboratories on the NIH Bethesda Campus, it is very likely that the door you use to enter and leave your laboratory is a "fire-rated" door. Doors you use to enter stairwells located in your building are also fire doors. Fire doors are typically of steel or solid wood construction and are provided with specially tested components including closers, latching hardware, and fire-rated glass view windows. These doors protect openings created in "fire barriers" which are constructed to separate laboratory work areas from corridors and stairwells from other parts of a building. However, they can only perform their job when used and maintained properly.
To maintain proper use of a fire door:
- Keep the door closed at all times. The simple action of closing a fire door will help contain the products of a fire (e.g., heat and smoke) within the laboratory while protecting adjacent areas and the exit route. In addition, keeping the door closed at all times will help maintain air pressure in laboratory work areas that is negative with respect to the corridor as required by fire and safety codes.
- Don't prop open the door with wedges or by bending the closing mechanism. Aside from possibly rendering the fire door inoperable due to physical damage, propping open fire doors will allow products of combustion to migrate into other areas and contribute to the spread and severity of the fire.
- Don't install metal "kick plates" higher than 16 inches from the bottom of the door. Larger kick plates act as a heat sink which could reduce the door's fire resistance.
- Don't store equipment or combustibles against the fire door. As part of their listing/certification requirements, fire doors are tested in a furnace as part of a fire rated wall assembly. Their ratings are slightly less than that assigned to the wall in which they are installed and they are considered the "weak link" in the fire wall. To pile items in front of a fire door may result in these materials igniting if a fire were to occur on the other side of the door. This could create a hazardous condition in the corridor not only for those exiting the building, but also for fire and emergency response personnel entering the building to extinguish the fire.
- Avoid blanking off hardware. If it is determined by the Division of the Fire Marshal that one of the fire doors installed in your laboratory is not required by the National Fire Codes and your wish to render it inactive, submit a work request to the Office of Research Facilities, through your Administrative Officer, to have the fire door removed and the wall cavity filled to maintain the fire barrier. This will then allow storage in the laboratory at that location.
- Don't nail or screw signs or other items to the fire door. Creating holes or cracks in a fire door may void the fire protection rating and require replacement of the fire door. Signs may be attached to fire doors provided they are small (less than 5 percent of the area of the fire door) and attached with adhesive (to areas other than the fire rated glass view window).
If you have any questions concerning the proper use, installation or modification of fire doors please contact the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services, at 301-496-0487.