St. Paul’s 4-Part Program To Keep Fire Doors Closed
After a series of apartment house fires in which open fire doors contributed to fire and smoke spread, Chief Steve Conroy of the St. Paul Fire Depart ment directed his fire prevention staff to develop a more intensive approach to enforcement of St. Paul’s fire door requirements.
Under the direction of Fire Marshal Dan Norrgran, inspection and enforcement specialists developed a four-part education and enforcement program designed to curb the open fire door problem.
First, the cooperation and support of other municipal officials was obtained. The primary target of this effort were city judicial officers, who had treated open fire door violations lightly. The city attorney’s office helped by recommending inspection tactics that would lead to higher conviction rates.
Second, apartment building owners’ associations were contracted by letter and through meetings. In addition to explaining the purpose and importance of fire doors, fire prevention specialists emphasized the legal risks owners face if open fire doors are found to contribute to the death, injury, or damage to renters and their property. In turn, building owners educated the fire prevention specialists by pointing out that occupants were often the “guilty parties,” propping open fire doors to provide more ventilation and light, to ease access and to enhance security.
The third and fourth phases of the program involved education of caretakers and renters. An apartment house inspection team was created (this team was later split into two teams) and contacts were made with caretakers of each building in which fire doors are required by code. When open fire doors were found, reinspections were scheduled for three to five days after the initial inspection. If fire doors were still open at the time of the reinspection, $300 tags were issued.
Tenants were educated through distribution by inspectors, owners, and caretakers of a small flyer describing the risks of open fire doors. A drawing in this flyer depicts a fire bypassing the closed fire doors of an apartment’s second floor. The St. Paul Tenants Union also was asked to help.
Tenant and caretaker education is still under way, but results so far are positive. As the word has spread, there’s been a decline in the number of violation tags issued. Apartment owners are requesting fire door signs and flyers in record numbers. And since the program was initiated, fire fighters have encountered significantly fewer cases of open fire doors.