Fire Prevention & Protection

Closed Doors Can Save Lives

 

By Sean DeCrane, Nick Ledin, PJ Norwood, John Shafer, and Becki White

Throughout every civilization, doors have been symbolic of new opportunities. Doors are designed to serve as a portal for people or objects to travel in and out of. Their purpose is to be a barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle while providing protection for those inside from the elements outside. However, when people think of a door, they don’t consider it as a life-saving device. It’s time that the fire service not only change our view of doors but make it our mission to educate the general public on how doors can save lives.

Before we make our case to the public on how doors are life-saving devices, we need to fully understand how a simple door can increase our safety in the event of a fire. Simply, a door can protect those on the interior by reducing the smoke, heat, and flames entering the room while also keeping oxygen levels higher.

Although we all inherently understand these basic facts, we need to dig a little deeper to fully understand and appreciate how a door truly affects the fire environment. And although the physics of fire are a constant, our fire environment is continuously evolving. The catalyst for this evolution is the constant change in what we put inside our buildings, what we use to build them, and how we construct them. These changes in the fire environment all lead to a very predictable outcome: faster fires that will continue to burn even faster in the future. This increase in the speed of fire spread is because of an increased heat release rate and oxygen consumption rate; this increase in fire growth causes the obvious consequences of shorter times to flashover; shorter times to collapse; and, most importantly, shorter escape times. Compounding and complicating this increase in “fire power” is the fact that our buildings continue to get bigger, more energy efficient, and filled with more “stuff” (i.e., fuel).

The benefits of a closed door are clear for anyone to see.

 

The potential effects of a closed door during a fire include the following:

  • Reduced smoke (CO, HCN, CO2) in the closed room.
  • Reduced temperature in the closed room.
  • Reduced fire damage in the closed room.
  • Increased oxygen in the closed room.
  • Increased survivability in the closed room.
  • Increased escape times in the closed room.
  • Decreased oxygen to the fire area.
  • Decreased heat release rate.
  • Slowed fire growth.
  • Increased time to flashover in the fire area.
  • Increased time to collapse.
  • Increased likelihood of a ventilation limited fire.

 

“Spreading” the Message

The fire service needs to approach the “Close Your Door” and “Close Before You Doze” messages from as many different perspectives as possible. Although we initially focus on the general public and our fellow firefighters, we also need to spread this message to code enforcement, law enforcement, dispatch, local media, and anyone else that will listen. Each of these areas will require partnerships with several stakeholders, both internally and externally. Depending on the size of your department and community, the complexity and level of involvement will differ from place to place. The remainder of this article with be about the basics that all departments should address at a minimum.

 

General Public Education

The public we swore to protect is the biggest and most important group we need to reach in our goal of saving lives. The proactive, free, and potentially life-saving message that we need to promote to anyone and everyone that will listen is simply to “Close Your Door.” This change in human behavior sounds supremely simple, and the truth is that it is; we’ve all already done it multiple times today. The hard part is getting the message out to everyone so that they actually hear what we’re saying. That means that to reach as many people as possible we need to hit the streets, hit the schools, and hit social media. The fire service needs to spread this message: stop the spread of fire! For more information on how to incorporate the “Close Your Door” information into your department’s public education message, visit https://fireservice.closeyourdoor.org or https://closeyourdoor.org. Both sites contain a wealth of information on the “Close Your Door” message in the form of facts, videos, a toolbox, press releases, magnets, stickers, flyers, frequently asked questions, and so on.

To potentiate the potential benefits of the “Close Your Door” message, we need to promote the importance of closing doors before we go to bed (“Close Before You Doze”), anytime we leave the house, and anytime we’re not using certain rooms (bedrooms, basements, closets, bathrooms, and so on). While preaching the ““Close Your Door” message, we also need to make sure that we’re championing the benefits of working, interconnected smoke alarms (that are tested monthly), and making escape plans. No single message will ever be as good as all of these messages, especially when we’re measuring in lives and property saved. We’re the experts, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to help the public.

 

Firefighter Education

Over the past 10-plus years, there have been several research projects conducted by Underwriters Laboratories, the National Institute of Technology, the Fire Department of New York, the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and Kill the Flashover, all with the common goal of trying to better understand the fireground and the results of our actions (and inactions). The results of these research projects will save both firefighters and civilians lives by making firefighters smarter and safer on the fireground.

Every firefighter should completely understand the tactical considerations from these studies to work more effectively and efficiently on the fireground; both are directly related to firefighter and civilian safety.

A tactical consideration that doesn’t get enough focus (or promotion) and one that is a constant that keeps showing up in nearly every single test or demonstration is the positive effects of a closed door on fire development and, more importantly, survivability. A closed door can limit the oxygen to a fire; since the oxygen consumed by a fire is directly proportional to the energy it produces, the closed door will slow the fire growth. Since we have seen that fires are burning and spreading faster, anything we can do to slow them down will benefit us and THEM. We need the fire service to leverage this information to make our families, friends, communities, and fellow firefighters safer.

This research has shown us that just as the fireground is evolving, so too is our understanding of the fireground. This renaissance has led to much discussion, debate, and dialogue on true coordination (i.e., attack, ventilation, and search) concerning our strategies, tactics, and tasks. Although the fire service has known of the importance of how doors can affect coordination for well over 150 years, our tactics have continued to evolve.

“…the door should be kept shut while the water is being brought, and the air excluded as much as possible, as the fire burns exactly in proportion to the quantity of air which it receives.”

– James Braidwood

We have numerous tactics, techniques, and tools highlighting the importance of a closed door such as confining the fire; isolating areas from the fire during search, attack, backup, and so on; vent, enter, isolate, and search; door control before and during attack; using smoke curtains; closing doors on your 360° size-up (after you do a “life-fire-layout” sweep); searching behind every closed door; and so on. If we know the benefits a closed door can have on the fireground, it’s our duty to make sure that we pass this information on not only to our fellow members but also to our families and friends.

 

Partnering Agencies Education

There are numerous other agencies involved, both directly and indirectly, with saving lives from the dangers of fire. Fire service dispatchers are the initial first responders. Their prearrival statements must include advising all occupants to evacuate the building and close all doors they can safely on their way out. They must also advise that they should close interior doors if they are unable to exit the structure. Local law enforcement officers are often the first “boots” on the [fire]ground; because of this, we need to train them on how they can best save lives and property prior to the fire department’s arrival. Although indiscriminately kicking open doors looks cool in movies, it doesn’t help with someone still inside the building on fire.

The ISFSI has put together a class specifically aimed at this topic, which you can watch below:

 

We must also leverage inspection divisions and code enforcement officials to continue to lobby and enforce all commercial and apartment buildings to have functioning fire doors.

 

The door is a life-saving device, and we must collectively begin to make sure every person in our community recognizes its importance. We will only accomplish this when the fire service takes the “Close Your Door” message and broadcasts it using every tool it has at its disposal. This means that we must use local, national, and social media to help spread this critical message to save lives. Look how far the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” message has traveled! It traveled far and wide, and that was well before social media.

Let’s work together and reach as many people as we can with this message. Please take advantage of the “Close Your Door” Web site and “toolbox” and begin sharing this life-saving message within your community today.

 

Sean DeCrane started his career with the Cleveland (OH) Fire Department in 1991 where he is currently a Battalion Chief assigned to the 3rd Battalion while previously serving as Chief of Training for the Cleveland Fire Training Academy. He is a State of Ohio certified instructor and represents the International Association of Fire Fighters in the International Code Council. He also has served on the 2009 and 2012 International Fire Code Development Committees and is the current committee chair for the 2015 Edition. He was awarded the 2010 International Code Council’s Fire Service Award, the International Association of Fire Chiefs Fire Life Safety Section’s 2013 Fire Service Award, and gave the 2015 FDIC General Session Keynote Speech. DeCrane also serves on the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1 Fire Code Technical Committee. In addition, he serves on the Underwriters Laboratories Fire Council, the U.S. Fire Administration’s Residential Fire Environment Workshop Project, the U.S. Fire Administration’s project on Fire Fighting Tactics in Wood-Frame Residential Construction, and the Modern Fire Environment Education Committee.

Nick Ledin is a firefighter paramedic with the Eau Claire (WI) Fire Department, currently assigned to Engine 10/Medic 10. Ledin has been a student of the job for 10 years and is an instructor with Chippewa Valley Technical College and Central Lakes College. He’s a contributor to the ‘Firefighter Rescue Survey’, is president of the Northland FOOLS, a co-host of International Perspective on Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio, and a former technical panel member for UL FSRI’s PPA/PPV Study.

P.J. Norwood is a Deputy Chief Training Officer for the East Haven CT Fire Department and has served four years with the CT Army National Guard. P.J. is a FDIC classroom, workshop and HOT Instructor, Fire Engineering Advisory Panel Member, Fire Engineering book and video author and served on the ULFSRI Technical Panel for the Study of Residential Attic Fire Mitigation Tactics and Exterior Fire Spread Hazards on Fire Fighter Safety. He has lectured across the United States as well and overseas. He is certified to the Instructor II, Officer III, Fire Marshal and Paramedic level.

John Shafer is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and is currently Chief of Training & Safety at the Washington Township Avon Fire Department. John is a recognized instructor who has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada delivering specialized training programs on Building Construction, Fireground Search, Fire Behavior, Firefighter Safety, and the Close the Door initiative. He has taught nationally at FDIC, Firehouse World, and Firehouse Expo. John strives to bring advanced training and new technologies to the Washington Township Avon Fire Department; keeping an open mind when learning about new advancements and discoveries while respecting the historic past of the fire service. John is passionate about sharing his findings with others and one of the ways he does this is through social media. John manages several fire service training pages and is also the founder and editor of greenmaltese.com and is co-owner of firetrainingtoolbox.com.

Becki White is an Assistant Chief with the Eden Prairie Fire Department overseeing the Training and Fire Prevention Divisions. White has a Master’s Degree in Education from St. Mary’s University and just completed the Executive Fire Officer program with the National Fire Academy. White was formerly a Deputy State Fire Marshal / Fire and Life Safety Educator with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division and an elementary school teacher. White also serves as the Minnesota representative of the International Association of Fire Service Instructors, an executive board member for the Northland FOOLS, and an advisory board member for Fire Engineering and Fire Rescue magazines and FDIC International conference.