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Closing the Door on Disaster

Your facility’s doors could spell the difference between tragedy and triumph

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 13,570 structure fires in stores and other mercantile properties each year between 2009 and 2013. These tragic retail store fires resulted in an annual average of 12 civilian deaths, 299 civilian fire injuries and a whopping $604 million in direct property damage.

“As mandated by the NFPA 80, property owners are also required to complete an annual inspection.”

This is why it’s critical for FMs to carefully select the strongest, most effective fire doors to protect their customers, staff and facility. “Fire and smoke must be stopped in their tracks to save property and, more importantly, protect lives,” emphasized David Dawdy, Director of Fire Protection & Life Safety NPD with CornellCookson, a manufacturer of security and life safety closure products for retail stores, hotels, hospitals, schools and other commercial buildings. Cornell Storefront Systems is the National Account Division of CornellCookson. 

Extinguishing Disaster

Fire doors can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for a fire to spread through a building. By slowing the blaze, employees and customers have more time to evacuate or wait for the fire department to arrive. In many cases, fire doors are the difference between life and death.

“Rolling steel fire doors are structural separations used to prevent the spread of fire and smoke throughout a building,” Dawdy explained. He added that the most advanced fire door systems can quickly compartmentalize a fire event, allowing adequate time for customers and employees to exit the building. “[These systems] have become the clear and reliable choice for building owners and designers who demand the highest level of life safety and fire protection available,” he said.

Some fire doors are programmed to close at the first sign of smoke, which immediately prevents smoke and fire migration throughout the facility. “We recommend a smoke seal package for all fire doors to enhance this function, since smoke is the real killer, more so than fire,” Dawdy explained. In fact, the NFPA reports that most fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation rather than burns.

Not an Option

Of course, fire doors aren’t a luxury for retail stores. These systems are actually required, as mandated by NFPA 80, to create compartmentalization within every building. According to the NFPA website, the NFPA 80 is a collection of standards that regulates the “installation and maintenance of assemblies and devices used to protect openings in walls, floors and ceilings against the spread of fire and smoke within, into, or out of buildings.” These standards also address general requirements and provisions for the care and maintenance of fire doors.

“When properly inspected and maintained, fire doors consistently provide dependable and predictable operation during a fire event to block passage of fire and smoke, and allow sprinkler systems a greater ability to suppress or even eliminate the event until fire fighters arrive,” Dawdy said.

As mandated by the NFPA 80, property owners are also required to complete an annual inspection and “drop testing” of their facility’s fire doors. “The greatest single benefit to scheduling this inspection consistently is the reduction of liability by spotting damage or other factors that could prevent doors from closing and allowing the spread of a fire event throughout a facility,” Dawdy said. “Our inspections have identified numerous fire doors that would not be ready, thereby allowing us to inform and educate our client and correct the problem.”

Pinpointing the Perfect Door

As an FM, it’s critical to carefully select a cutting-edge fire door system that offers the strongest defense against fires at the best value. “Property owners and managers are going to live with their choices for a long time,” Dawdy stressed. “Fire doors can easily remain fully functional and compliant for 50 years or longer.”

As you contemplate your options, consider how difficult it may be to test each fire door system. While older fire door systems can be extremely labor intensive (and thus expensive) to test, many newer systems are much more inspection-friendly. “There are excellent systems available that may be inspected, drop tested and reset numerous times without more than the turn of a key,” Dawdy explained. “Selecting a system that provides the greatest protection combined with service functionality just makes good sense.”

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