An Overview of Fire Exit Terminology and Technology

An Overview of Fire Exit Terminology and Technology
  • Opening Intro -

    What Is a Fire Exit?

    The simplest definition of a fire exit is a way out of the building you only use if there is a serious threat like a fire. In comparison, an egress is any way out.


During a fire, you may have more ways out or egress the building than the entryways used on a daily basis. However, there are a number of devices used to provide a level of protection to occupants of a building when there is a fire while also balancing safety and security.

Safety Versus Security

Security and safety are not the same thing, though they’re interrelated. For example, security may mean limiting access to the building to potential intruders; but safety in a fire requires having an easy way out of the building.

Security measures that interfere with a rapid escape then jeopardize someone’s safety. For example, badging out systems get in the way when a hundred people are trying to get through the door. One solution is relying on sensors aside from fire alarms to determine when fire exits are unlocked or thrown wide open.

smoke alarmsfire escape ladder

This is why a fire exit door lock is often tied to the activation of fire sprinklers or a building wide fire alarm. At a minimum, the fire exit doors are unlocked when more than one smoke detector or heat sensor goes off so that a criminal can’t unlock the fire door by holding a cigarette lighter under it.

Alternatively, security personnel should be able to unlock all the doors if they think there is a legitimate reason to evacuate the building. This should be in addition to conventional panic hardware that can accidentally trap people in a building when there is a crowd crushing against the escape doors.

Note that fire door locks are typically separate from the door locks used for occupant privacy or safety. The locks an apartment resident can use to prevent a criminal entering probably do nothing to protect against a spreading fire, and such security locks could prevent someone escaping that way during a fire unless fire door hardware forces the door open.

How Fire Door Hardware Improves Security

So far, we’ve discussed fire doors that provide a way out in an emergency. Yet there are devices that close doors and hold them closed in an emergency.

For example, fire doors may close and be held securely in place when there is a fire. This fire door hardware will generally hold doors closed against those that may try to enter a hallway if there is extreme heat detected on the other side.

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The doors then provide several layers of Protection. They prevent someone from running into a room or hallway on fire. The tight seal likely keeps than succumb to smoke inhalation. The same seals and the door’s high fire rating gives people on the clear side a few more minutes to escape, because the fire can’t be spread by embers floating down the hallway.

Fire rated doors are always a way to improve someone’s safety, since these doors will resist fire. The door hardware has to resist the same high temperatures as the door itself or the door’s fire rating is meaningless.

Image credit: Pixabay

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