Have you gotten close to your fire door lately?

The importance of initial fire door inspections and subsequent annual inspections cannot be overemphasized. The adoption and execution of initial and annual fire door inspections will result in safer conditions for building occupants.

By Ronald J. Ray, RA, CCS, CCCA, CSI, AIA, ARCOM January 18, 2017

The NFPA first developed NFPA 80: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives in 1912 under the title Rules for Fire Protection Coverings for Openings in Walls and Partitions on the Interior of Buildings. NFPA 80 has been adopted into the International Building Code (IBC) since the IBC’s inception in 2000 and has also been adopted into NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. The current edition of NFPA 80 was released in 2016 and has not yet been adopted into any national building code. For the purpose of this article, the requirements of the 2013 edition will be addressed specifically when it comes to care and maintenance of fire-rated openings.

NFPA 80 states that its purpose is to regulate "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." Chapter 5 specifically addresses care and maintenance of fire doors. One of the key elements in ensuring that a fire-rated door functions correctly is the annual inspection process of installed doors as required by NFPA 80, Section 5.2. These annual inspection requirements have been in NFPA 80 since the 2007 edition and are similar in concept to the annual inspections for elevators, fire sprinkler systems, and fire alarm systems. The 2013 edition of NFPA 80 had a new requirement that inspections be performed upon completion of the initial door installation and upon any completed maintenance work to the door. Determining who will perform these inspections on new construction needs to be addressed within the construction documents. Generally, authorities having jurisdiction and architects do not have the necessary knowledge or time to adequately perform the inspections. Thus, similar to other field quality control testing, independent third-party entities are the logical approach. Assigning the responsibility of obtaining third-party inspections to the contractor is already established within the door and frame industry. Specifications must include language to this effect including defining qualified inspectors, detailing the inspection and testing requirements, and quantifying the inspection documentation requirements.

According to NFPA 80, inspections and testing are required to be "performed by a qualified person with knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the type of assembly being subject to testing." NFPA 80, Section 3.3.95, defines a qualified person as follows:

"A person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certification, professional standing, or skill, and who, by knowledge, training, and experience, has demonstrated the ability to deal with the subject matter, the work, or the project."

NFPA 80 does not require any documentation to qualify fire door inspectors. However, the Door and Hardware Institute (DHI) offers various certification programs that most authorities having jurisdiction should accept as evidence of being a qualified fire door inspector. These certifications include Fire and Egress Door Assembly Inspector (FDAI), Architectural Hardware Consultant (AHC), Certified Door Consultant (CDC), and Architectural Openings Consultant (AOC). DHI is transitioning to a new certification system that may add additional certifications applicable to inspection and testing of fire-rated openings. Additionally, Intertek Group offers a Fire Door Inspector certification through their Intertek Qualified Personnel (IQP) Program.

NFPA 80 requires both sides of swinging fire doors to be inspected and tested according to the following 13 items:

(1) Labels are clearly visible and legible.

(2) No open holes or breaks exist in the surface of either the door or frame.

(3) Glazing, vision light frames, and glazing beads are intact and securely fastened in place, if so equipped.

(4) The door, frame, hinges, hardware, and noncombustible threshold are secured, aligned, and in working order with no visible signs of damage.

(5) No parts are missing or broken.

(6) Door clearances do not exceed clearances listed in 4.8.4 and

(7) The self-closing device is operational; that is, the active door completely closes when operated from the fully open position.

(8) If a coordinator is installed, the inactive leaf closes before the active leaf.

(9) Latching hardware operates and secures the door when it is in the closed position.

(10) Auxiliary hardware items that interfere or prohibit operation are not installed on the door or frame.

(11) No field modifications to the door assembly have been performed that void the label.

(12) Meeting-edge protection, gasketing, and edge seals, where required, are inspected to verify their presence and integrity.

(13) Signage affixed to a door meets the requirements listed in 4.1.4.

Note that numbers 1 and 13 were added to the 2013 edition of NFPA 80. For number 13, the requirements are that a sign can be no larger than 5% of the face of the fire door, must be attached by adhesive, and shall not be installed on glazing material that is part of the fire door.

When glazing is permitted in a fire-rated door, it must be labeled for fire resistance or fire protection and must be installed in accordance with inspection services and under label service.

Field-inspection reports are required to include the following per NFPA 80, Section

(1) Date of inspection

(2) Name of facility

(3) Address of facility

(4) Name of person(s) performing inspection and testing

(5) Company name and address of inspecting company

(6) Signature of inspector of record

(7) Individual record of each inspected and tested fire door assembly

(8) Opening identifier and location of each inspected and tested fire door assembly

(9) Type and description of each inspected and tested fire door assembly

(10) Verification of visual inspection and functional operation

(11) Listing of deficiencies in accordance with sections 5.2.3, 5.3, and 5.4.

Fire door inspection reports are required to be retained in the facility for no less than 3 years, written on a medium that will survive the length of the required retention period, and made available to the authority having jurisdiction upon request.

The importance of initial fire door inspections and subsequent annual inspections cannot be overemphasized. It has been reported nationally that more than 80% of swinging fire-rated doors fail the inspection and testing required by NFPA 80. The most common deficiencies are painted or missing fire labels, excessive perimeter gaps when the door is closed, kickdown door holders installed on fire-rated doors, auxiliary hardware installed that interferes with the intended door function, doors blocked in the open position, broken or missing hardware items, missing or incorrect fasteners, and bottom flush bolts that do not fully engage the strike. The adoption and execution of initial and annual fire door inspections will result in safer conditions for building occupants. 

Ronald J. Ray has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in architectural management from Kansas State University. He has 25 years of experience as an architect and as a specification writer. Prior to joining ARCOM, Ron spent 24 years in private practice as an independent specification consultant for architectural, structural engineering, and civil engineering firms, producing more than 420 project manuals for a wide range of project types. This article originally appeared on ARCOM’s blog. ARCOM is a CFE Media content partner.