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Caution - Fire Doors may not be what they seem

Updated on December 26, 2013

There are Fire Doors and there are Fire Doors

This is in part due to the tragic fire in Bankstown recently where 2 girls died after jumping from a balcony. I am not trying to portray this information is in anyway connected with what happened at Bankstown. This is just general information anyone living in a unit with fire doors should be aware of.

The term "Fire Door" has a few different interpretations depending on the purpose of the door. Most people think of a fire door as an escape route and after the "Fire Door" has been certified that it should be safe if there is a fire. Well, that might not be the case!

Sunnybank Locksmith Fire Door
Sunnybank Locksmith Fire Door

FIre Containment

Odds are the Fire Door on your unit is not a fire exit. That's right, it is classified as a fire containment door.

A fire containment door is designed to stop the spread of fire to the rest of the building. A fire containment door is made from fire retardant materials and designed to withstand a fire for 1 or 2 hours or more, depending on the classification of the building,door,etc.

It is the fire door inspector's job to make sure the door is working properly, the seals are in place, the locks are correct, etc.

A fire containment door has a strict set or requirements set out by BSA, Local, State, Federal governments and other bits and pieces added by Australian Standards and others...

Part of the requirements for a fire door are that the door has to be tested in a fire testing laboratory where the door is heated to make sure it would withstand a fire. All hardware and door furniture, hinges, etc has to also be tested. In fact all hardware has to have a fire rating to be fitted to a fire door.

Sunnybank Locksmith Dog opening door
Sunnybank Locksmith Dog opening door

Your Unit Door

So if your door is classified as a "fire containment door" What does this mean?

Well, it is not classified the same as a "fire exit door". A "fire exit door" is an escape route in case there is a fire.

A fire exit door must have only 1 lock on the door.

A fire exit door must have a lever handle or special escape lock on the inside for quick exit.

A fire exit door can only have fire rated locks installed.

A fire exit door can not have any extra holes drilled in the door.

Most unit doors are not classified as fire exit doors. If so odds are,

Your unit door can have multiple locks installed.

Your unit door can have a deadlock installed.

Your unit door can have a non fire rated lock installed.

Your unit door may have extra holes drilled in it.

In fact your unit door can be deadlocked from inside or out while you are inside!

But wait it gets better!

There is a whole other pile of legislation regarding disability access. Buildings have to be handicap friendly with access ramps, and all types of features for disabled people.

Disabled people are not only people in wheel chairs. They include sick people, people with broken bones, breathing difficulties, etc...

Fire exit doors are made with disabled people in mind. They are usually Open Out doors(can be pushed open to exit), they have one lever handle set which can be pushed down with an elbow if need be.

But what about unit doors?

How on earth is a disabled person going to be able to turn a handle on a door set and at the same time unlock the deadlock, while pulling open a door with a heavy door closer? Even a person with a sore arm is going to have trouble doing all this at once! Not to mention first looking for the key to unlock the deadlock.

But wait it gets even better!

A fire exit door has to have the lock set at a specific height, so when there is a fire they can stay close to the ground and open the door.

The deadlock on your unit door can be fitted so high a small person or a person in a wheel chair can not even reach it!

Sunnybank Locksmith Fire truck
Sunnybank Locksmith Fire truck

The fire brigade inspect my building. It's all good.

Buildings now require a fire log to be kept. It is the fire door inspector's job to write in the fire log the details of his inspection and the work carried out by himself or other people working on the fire doors.

The fire brigade will come and inspect a building. They will inspect public areas, fire exit doors and check the fire log.

The fire brigade are not able to check your unit door! Due to privacy reasons they are not permitted inside your unit. So they will not be able to advise you if they consider there to be an issue with your door, unless you invite them in for a personal inspection.

Holes patched with car bog in Fire Door in High Rise Apartment
Holes patched with car bog in Fire Door in High Rise Apartment

Who is checking the Fire Door Inspector?

If your unit has a fire containment door, then it is made to a set of specifications using specific materials and tested for it's fire worthiness.

Fire containment doors are made with special inserts at specific heights for fitting locks, hinges, door closers, etc. Drilling holes in places other then those specified will damage the door.

You will not see the damage, but if there is a fire, the door could be completely useless and not contain the fire.

In a fire the temperatures can get to over 1000 degrees Celsius. This is hot enough to melt some metals. Even a small hole can allow a fire to penetrate the door and compromise it in minutes.

Many of the additional locks being fitted to fire containment doors are not being fitted in the zone allocated for the lock. They are being fitted too high or low and holes are being drilled directly into the fire retardant materials.

But wait it gets better!

Many fire door inspectors are patching large holes in these fire doors with polyester filler and even expand-a-foam, then plastering over and painting the doors. These holes are not small. They are around 50mm in diameter! Last time I checked Polyester filler was highly flammable?

Maybe the fire door inspectors are testing the fire doors they are bogging up? Talking to people in the industry, I have not heard of any such tests being carried out, but maybe they are?

As there is no one checking the fire inspectors work, I think it is very doubtful each fire door is being tested.

If you have had such work done on your door, I suggest you contact the fire inspector and ask for a fire test report! Ask what guarantee the inspector gives on the patched door.

Picture is of work performed by a fire door inspector. A deadlock has been fitted high on the door and a large hole patched with car filler, ready for repainting.

A big problem with fire door codes of Australia

While on a St Lucia Locksmith job last night to unlock a bedroom door in a small highrise apartment I came across a good example of a rather big issue with Australian fire door legislation.

The issue is that this door has recently had a Lockwood 001 deadlatch fitted. Now the deadlatch is a few months old, it no longer closes properly.

We as many other countries have some good legislation regarding fire doors. This type of door in the video is designed to contain a fire. So if there is a fire in this apartment it can not spread to the rest of the building.

The main parts of fire legislation refer to:

- Only fire rated hardware can be fitted to a fire door

- The door and hardware has to be tested (Heated to high temperature for hours)

- The fire door has to close and it has to have a fire seal on the door.

But then the legislation refers to an Australian Standard that basically says - The lock in the video below can be fitted to the door.

But hang about...

This lock is not fire rated???

What's more it can be deadlocked, locking people on the inside???

How can we have strict regulations, then allow a non fire rated deadlock to be fitted?? Beats the hell out of me. I believe that should be asked of the Australian Standards and our legislators who approved it. Maybe I am missing something??

OK, i am just being silly. Why not just fit a heavier duty more powerful door close to the door? That would fix the problem!

"by honey, I am leaving for work (with brief case in hand)"

"Oh! I need 2 hands to open my front door to my unit"

"Oh! This door is really heavy to open with this new door closer"

"OK, I got it open"

"CLUNK" (the door closes)

Now with the new heavier door closer (which has to be fire rated and cost me over $500) there is even more force being applied to the new non fire rated deadlatch. What do you think is going to happen to it?

Well, Nobody really knows as it has not been tested on a fire door.

One thing I know is that these locks are chocking open doors on a regular basis and as they get older, the problem is getting worse.

In Australia we also have a disability act. The vibe of the disability act is that a person in a wheel chair has to be able to enter and exit a building. It is hard enough for a person in a wheel chair to open a door lock and then pull the door back while they are seated and using one hand to power their wheel chair as most unit doors open inwards.

Now add a stronger door closer and an extra lock (which may be fitted high on the door) Opening the door for a non wheel chaired person is a 2 hand job. In a wheel chair you also need to be able to pull the chair backwards to open the door, essentially a 3 hand job.

Now try this trick in a wheel chair in a smoke filled apartment?

Another issue I am hearing about is that owners of units are being told they need this extra deadlock to be fitted on their door. The truth is this is not a necessary lock that has to be fitted. it is an added Australian Standard written by or approved by ??

Fire Door

Internal Parts to a fire containment door
Internal Parts to a fire containment door

Fire Brigade Inspecting Buildings at West End Brisbane

Fire Trucks West End Brisbane
Fire Trucks West End Brisbane

The Fire Brigade in Queensland do regular checks of apartments, highrises and commercial buildings. These are a couple of fire trucks in West End West End doing an inspection.

Let us know about your Fire Door!

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    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      This is very useful information and important for those who do not understand the principle behind fire doors and deadlocks, etc. Well done, blessed.