The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), which came into force in October 2006, states that the safety of people in non-domestic premises falls to the “responsible person”. In summary, as noted in the HM Government publication “A short guide to making your premises safe from fire” (June 2006), the responsible person is anyone who has control of the premises or anyone who has a degree of control over certain areas or systems within the premises.
In respect of residential accommodation, the RRO runs alongside the Housing Act (2004) with regard to fire safety in the common areas of Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs), flats, maisonettes and sheltered accommodation in which personal care is not provided. It is the duty of the responsible person to carry out a fire risk assessment and ensure that its findings are implemented. This will usually be the landlord or, in the case of an absentee landlord, the managing agent of the premises.
Before the local government LACORS publication “Housing – Fire Safety: guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing” (August 2008) there were no national guidelines for landlords to enable them to understand and comply with the regulatory framework. Although there is a huge variety of rented housing, and each case has to be considered individually, the LACORS guide is invaluable in setting out the many general issues to be considered in respect of fire safety, one of which is fire doors.
What does a fire door do?
A fire door is designed to i) create/protect an escape route through a building in a fire situation and ii) to compartmentalize a fire to stop the smoke and flames spreading from one section of the building to another. In respect of i) a fire door must be able to open freely, to facilitate evacuation in case of fire, and must not be obstructed. In order to perform its function in resisting a fire, it must also be able to self-close. In respect of ii) where a fire door is deployed in a restricted area that is not usually populated and does not form part of the escape route, e.g. a boiler room, it should be kept locked shut.
What is a fire door?
While any solid door will offer some degree of protection from fire, a certified fire door of timber construction will, when closed, provide resistance from smoke and fire for a minimum specified length of time, typically 30 minutes (FD30). This should, in most situations, allow for the evacuation of the premises and response of the emergency fire services.
This ability to resist smoke and fire is due to the fact that a fire door is not simply a block of wood in a frame, but a complete installed assembly of fire resistant components, including doorframe, hardware (e.g. hinges, locks, latches, etc), panels, glazing (where required) and intumescent seals. Smoke seals should also be fitted, unless smoke detectors are only fitted along the main escape route through the building. In this situation, smoke has to be able to reach the detectors in order to activate the fire alarm. Ideally, however, smoke detectors should be fitted in individual dwellings within an HMO, wired into the central fire alarm system. This is because the alarm will sound early in the development of the fire and the smoke seals will protect the escape route from smoke, which poses more of a threat to life and property than the flames of a fire, particularly in its early stages.
A fire door must also have an automatic closing device: it has to permit the free flow of traffic under normal circumstances but must be able to self-close in the event of a fire. Overhead door closers are preferable to the concealed spring door type; the latter are cheap to fit but tenants often remove them, as the torque they exert causes the door to bang shut, which creates disturbance, while also making it difficult to hold open. However, some more expensive concealed door closers control the final shutting movement to improve this issue.
This raises another important issue. Although the practice is frequently observed, it is both hazardous and illegal to prop or wedge a fire door open. Dedicated fire door retainers are a simple, safe and legal alternative. This type of device will hold a fire door open under normal circumstances but will automatically release the door in a fire situation.
Where are fire doors needed?
Typical locations for fire doors in HMOs include stairwells, to protect them from the corridors opening on to them; the entrance doors to individual flats/bedsits; and at the head of the stairs of unoccupied basements/cellars, which often contain electrical/gas apparatus (wiring/pipes, meters, etc) as well as being used as storage areas.
This is not an exhaustive list and each property will have to be assessed both in terms of its individual construction and use; for example, with single household occupancy or in low-risk shared houses, existing doors that are of solid construction and able to self-close may be acceptable. Expert advice should ideally be sought in this regard.
Installation of fire doors
Although a competent professional can install a fire door, it is recommended that the work be carried out under the auspices of the Accredited Fire Door Installers Scheme. This will ensure that the installation is carried out correctly, safely and in compliance with current Building Regulations.