Construction Concerns: Fire Doors

Article and photos by Gregory Havel

We are all familiar with “fire doors.” Fire-rated door and frame assemblies are required in all fire-rated division walls. The door and frame assemblies usually have a lower rating than the wall as a 1½-hour-rated door and frame in a 2-hour-rated wall. The rating system assumes that the wall may have combustibles stored against it, while the doorway will be clear; thus the higher rating required on the wall compared to the door. The doors and frame will each have a permanently attached label (Photo 1) indicating the manufacturer and model, and that it has been tested to a standard by Underwriters Laboratories or another testing agency.

Let’s keep in mind that the fire code requirements have not always been the same, and that there are fire doors and frames in some of our older buildings that may not meet today’s codes, and may not have today’s required label.

Photo 1

Photo 2 shows a fire-rated door and frame assembly installed in a new building in 1929. This part of the building has had no significant remodeling since then, and as a result the original fire door (in good condition) is permitted to remain as long as the door is in good working order.

Photo 2

By today’s standard, this plastered masonry wall could achieve a 2-hour fire rating, and the door would require a rating of 1½-hours.

This door and frame is made of steel and painted to imitate the varnished oak of the rest of the doors in the building. The door is filled with asbestos cement, and the frame with cement grout. The wire-glass window matches the windows in the rest of the doors in the building in size.

Photo 3

Photo 3 shows a circular label that indicates only the manufacturer and that it is a fire door. It was manufactured before current code and testing requirements were in effect. Although it will perform better than a non-rated door during a fire, we don’t know how well it will perform compared to a modern door that is manufactured to more stringent standards.

Gregory Havel is a member of the Town of Burlington (WI) Fire Department; retired deputy chief and training officer; and a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II and fire officer II, an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College, and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. He has a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College. He has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction.

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