The Deadly Charleston Fire: Elevating the Importance of Rolling Fire Doors

© 2007 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2007
Author: Steve Guyton
Page 54

The Deadly Charleston Fire
Elevating the Importance of Rolling Fire Doors

By Steve Guyton, The Cookson Company

Monday, June 18, 2007, was the deadliest day in the firefighting community since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Fire swept through a furniture warehouse in Charleston, S.C., killing nine firefighters. The cause of the fire is not yet known, but according to the Charleston Fire Department, the building was old and did not have a fire sprinkler system.

In the first seven months of 2007, 17 firefighters lost their lives fighting structure fires. In 2006, 89 firefighters died from on-duty injuries. To reduce these tragic deaths, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has developed a national program to implement major changes in training, equipment, and code enforcement (see

The Latest Fire Door Systems
To assist this endeavor, rolling fire door manufacturers continue to design and manufacture effective fire door systems. The original design of a rolling fire door allowed the door to close when a 165-degree fusible link melted and engaged the release mechanism of the door. But these doors were difficult to test.

Today, rolling fire doors can be connected to a smoke detector, release device, and/or the building alarm system. Fire doors can also provide audio warning of closure and can operate on battery back-up systems during a power outage.

Easier Testing and Resetting
Today’s rolling fire door systems are also easy to test and reset. The latest revision to the National Fire Protection Association Bulletin 80 states that all rolling fire doors should be drop-tested annually and reset and tested again. This ensures that the technician properly reset the fire drop mechanism.

The use of automatic-reset chain operators and automatic-reset motor operators has simplified resetting. Easier testing will improve the frequency of testing, which will lead to safer buildings.

Active and Passive Systems
Rolling fire doors are an integral part of the passive fire protection design in a building. Other passive fire protection elements include specialized flooring and ceilings, fire walls, and other fire stop systems.

balanced fire protection design includes the use of passive fire protection and active fire protection such as sprinkler systems. A balanced system offers the optimum combination of life safety and structural protection.

The Sprinkler Controversy
There is a movement to eliminate passive fire protection if an active system is used in the structure. However, redundancy is a positive feature when life safety is involved.

The automotive industry did not eliminate seat belts with the advent of the air bag. Most consumers did not stop wearing seat belts when air bags became standard equipment. Why should fire-protection life-safety issues be any different?

Active and passive systems provide different protection in fires. Active systems suppress fire, but they have some negatives. They are difficult to test. A fire can damage the protection system when a roof collapses or a floor gives way. And fire and smoke containment is extremely difficult.

Passive systems offer several positives. A fire door can contain fire and smoke in a specific area, creating havens of safety. It can establish and protect a means of safe escape. Rolling fire doors are easy to test and reset. When properly installed and maintained, a rolling fire door can stop the spread of fire from one area of the building to another.

In our industry, IDEA (Institute of Door Dealer Education and Accreditation) provides a certification program for rolling fire door technicians. It is the only program offered to educate and certify technicians in the theory, proper installation, and proper testing of rolling fire doors.

IDEA is also beginning work on a campaign to help educate the firefighting community on rolling fire doors, giving special attention to inspection and testing.

As the Charleston fire demonstrates, appropriate fire protection is essential for the safety of the public and the firefighting community. With the efforts of the National Fire Protection Association,, IDEA, and other organizations, great strides are being made to educate the public, inform the firefighting community, and to raise awareness of fire safety.

Steve Guyton, director of customer care at Cookson, is also the president of IDEA. He has been in the door business for 23 years. To reply to this article, send an e-mail to