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, doorframe, 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 keylock 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.

Know where you’re going

Emergency lighting comes into play when the normal mains-powered lighting fails and is essential for providing adequate light to allow people to evacuate the building safely in the case of a fire. As a minimum requirement, buildings must have emergency lighting installed across all the escape routes and exits from every area of the building, with the lighting being of adequate intensity for people to see where they are going, and a minimum backup duration of 1 to 3 hours. As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to ensure that this is in place as part of your fire safety procedures.

When deciding where to install emergency lighting, take into account any hazards that there may be along the evacuation route, such as corners, stairways or uneven flooring. You must also ensure that exit signs, fire alarm call points and equipment used for fire fighting, such as extinguishers or fire blankets, are adequately illuminated to be easily seen or located. Fire exit signs and emergency lighting from Ringtail are one of the best ways of ensuring that the fire exit is as visible as possible.

As with all fire safety equipment, regular testing of your emergency lighting must be carried out to ensure that it is working correctly. You should test that the lights are triggered when the mains supply is cut, and also that all the lights are illuminated as they should be. You will need to test your lighting once a month and do a full discharge test once a year. Log the results as any other fire safety equipment tests.

More information can be found in our emergency lighting guide.