Building Africa – January 2013

Cutting corners to save money when specifying or selecting fire doors holds lethal consequences, warns Bob Vollmer, director of fire door producer Bitcon Industries.

Vollmer says the selection of the correct fire door for specific applications too often receives scant attention compared to other aspects of the design of commercial, industrial and residential applications.

“There appears to be a surprising lack of awareness and understanding of fire doors and how they work. This is the case not only in South Africa but was also the findings of several studies overseas,” he says.

Simply because a fire door locks heavy and sturdy does not mean that it will provide sufficient protection should a fire break out.

“That is when a fire door must play its life-saving role as a high-technology, engineered safety device, fitted with components that will all combine for the required and specified time to prevent the spread of fire. The frames of fire door frames, for example, are vital components, acting as barriers to flames, and even the quality of hinges is important in the make-up of a reliable fire door.”

Vollmer says there is an increasing number of incidents in South Africa where a lack of understanding, often influenced by cost-cutting, have led to fire door failures which have proved costly and could have had fatal consequences. Bitcon has had to often do emergency installations to replace such failures. “You can’t base your selection of fire doors on costs, not when human lies are at stake. For example, think of immobile bed-ridden patients in a hospital: their lives can depend on the efficiency of the installed fire doors. Reputable third-party certification, involving independent testing and auditing, should be compulsory and all relevant members of the construction team should take responsibility to ensure that only fire doors which meet such quality criteria are installed.”

Referring to recent disastrous fires in residential complexes, Vollmer believes that the safety that fire doors can provide has become increasingly important, even in homes.