Difference Between Fire Doors and Fire Exits

The issue of fire doors and fire exits can be confusing for non-professionals in fire safety. If you have to replace some of the doors in your premises with fire doors or you have to improve egress from a building with panic bars on fire exits, it will be helpful to have a clear understanding of the differences between fire doors and fire exits.

A fire door is an internal door, whose purpose is to i) create/protect an escape route through a building in a fire situation; and ii) compartmentalise a fire, to stop flames and smoke spreading from one section of the building to another. Examples of locations of fire doors include stairwells, where they protect the stairs from corridors opening on to them; kitchens/catering facilities, storage areas that house combustible materials such as paper and card, and boiler rooms.

Fire doors have to be kept close at all times unless certified fire door retainers are installed (not just a door wedge!) which hold the fire door open until a fire alarm is set off.

Certified fire doors of solid timber construction are designed to resist the smoke and flames of a fire for a minimum specified length of time, typically 30 minutes (FD30), when closed. Because a fire door is not simply a block of wood in a frame but an assembly of fire resistant parts – door leaf/leaves, door frame, hardware (e.g. locks, latches, hinges, etc), any glazing, smoke/intumescent seals and an automatic closing device – it is also known as a fire doorset.

A fire exit door on the other hand, is an external door; it can be left open and does not have to be fire resistant. The purpose of the fire exit door is to allow a quick and un-hindered escape through a well lit door into a place of safety while stopping un-authorised access from the outside. Fire exits doors should open easily and, wherever possible, in the direction of traffic flow. If it is a security door that is usually kept locked but will be used by members of the public in an emergency situation, it will have to be fitted with a panic or push bar. By enabling the swift passage of people to a place of safety, the final exit door will have performed its function; it does not have to be a fire door to accomplish this. Fire exit doors can also be opened from the outside, if for example a panic bar with a key lock override is fitted. Fire exits must never be obstructed and have to be clearly marked and well lit. Best practice dictates that fire exit signs are fitted above fire exits.


  1. I loved how you mentioned that a fire door can create an escape route if the building is on fire. My husband recently got a new office building a couple of weeks ago, and he was wondering what he needed to add to it to make it a safer environment. I’ll make sure to pass this information along to him so he can look into getting a fire door installed.

  2. I’ve read through all above but still not certain if it is inadvisable to lock interal fire doors. Should these be kept closed but unlocked. I would appreciate your answer.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Valerie
      If the fire door is there to stop the spread of fire, eg a fire door separating a boiler room from a corridor, all that matters is that it is closed when a fire breaks out. Locked or unlocked does not matter.
      If the fire door is, however, part of an escpae route, eg a fire door between a corridor and a staircase, it is of course essential that people can easily open the door to leave.

  3. Hi Harry,
    Wonder if you can help us with this one?
    We have a fire exit door set on the second floor of a three storey block which is timber and is really just at the end of its serviceable life, so we are looking to renew it. The door-set is located between an enclosed communal corridor and an open walkway, both walkway and corridor serve flats. Is there a black and white answer for if this needs to be a fire rated exit door-set or just a fire exit door-set? There is no security on the door-set or any stairs within the enclosed corridor. (They are at either end of the block).
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Pat, apologies for the late reply. As there is a walkway past the outside of the door this exit door will have to be a fire door to stop flames from this exit impeding escape along the walkway.

  4. Does a final exit fire door have to be closed by the last person leaving? are they okay to be hooked open during the opening hours as they are only final exit doors and not fire doors?

    1. Hi, Dan
      A final exit door usually can stay open unless a fire escape route leads past the exit door on the outside (eg in the case of escape stairs with exit doors leading to the stairs).

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