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Fire Protection Association (2012): 'Arson has become the single most frequent cause of fire in buildings of all kinds, resulting in loss of life and injuries, enormous financial losses, business interruption, damage to the environment and loss of heritage buildings. Each year more than 60 people die and 2000 are injured in fires that are deliberately lit, while the annual cost of arson in England and Wales is estimated at £1.3 billion.

It is important for any fire safety manager or 'responsible person' to gain an awareness of the problem of arson and methods for minimising the threat.'

The Home Office: 'The diverse motives of arsonists, vandals and criminals mean that no home or business is immune from an attack.'


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External doors security and fire safety

 

Final exits doors security and fire resistance

The final exits on an escape route in a public building are known as fire exits. The final exit is secured by the final exit door, which must allow unobstructed authorised passages and provide climate control and safety to the building and the people.

Under Article 14 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), it is mandatory that the entire escape route up to and including the final exit from a building must remain unobstructed at all times. This is also a requirement of the Building Regulations.

The final exit door must not allow the spread of fire and smoke to the escape route

If the final exit door carries an unprotected letter plate, it is not fit for purpose because there is a possibility that fire and smoke or other harmful substances can spread into the building through the letter plate. The unprotected letter plate can undermine or completely cut off the main escape route.  

For example, the entrance/exit doors of flats that are facing the common areas (like in blocks of flats and houses in multiple occupations), are on escape route and must be fire doors. This is essential for the 'compartmentation of flats', which limits the spread of fire and smoke in case of a fire that may originate in the flats or the common areas.

While fitting 'fire rated' letter plates to entrance/exit doors of flats is currently allowed in the UK, these doors are not safe and not fit for purpose. Whereas the fire-resisting entrance/exit door to the flat is expected to be closed and even locked, the flap of the 'fire rated' letter plate can be open or partially open for many reasons no different to the flap of an ordinary letter plate.

This can happen when the flap of the letter plate is open or partially open, like when it is jammed by the mail items or a rolled-up newspaper. Also, the flap may fail to close correctly due to malfunctions. In a recorded 999 call made during the Grenfell fire the resident described smoke “coming from any crack in the door”; both around the frame and through the letterbox. Furthermore, the flap can be opened with a variety of malicious intents, like for access to locks or letterbox arson where the fire is introduced through the letter plate deliberately.  

Any fire safety professional will tell you that most fire deaths are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. Cold smoke through the open or partially open letter plate, which contains odourless and tasteless carbon monoxide gas CO, would be the primary killer in the early stages of a fire before the intumescent lining, which should be activated by the high temperature, could go into action. When the smoke becomes hot, the expansion of the intumescent lining will be obstructed by the items, which can be stuck inside the letter plate. This will undermine the 'fire rated' letter plate protection against the hot smoke too.

It is odd that a fire door with a 'fire rated' letter plate is not tested when the flap is open, although it is known that on-site the position of the flap is unpredictable.

Entrance/exit fire doors of flats with a letter plate that allow spread of fire and smoke and are not fit for purpose

They are in the need of the upgrade to protect against letterbox arson  

The fire-rated doors and doorsets are tested to meet the UK Standard BS 476:1987 or BS EN 1634-1:2014 with the flap of the 'fire rated' letter plate in the closed position. One of these tests pass is all that is required by the official guide to getting the fire door to the market.

Obviously, such misaligned testing regimes are not in line with the fundamental rule that tests must model the conditions pertinent to the performance of the door hardware in use. Since the tests are not realistic compared to a real-world environment, these products may be useless if we want to protect the property and the residents. 

For that reason, one cannot simply rely on the 'fire rated' letter plates to make fire doors fit for purpose. They cannot always protect against the spread of fire and smoke, and they can never protect against letterbox arson. The letter plates are the usual targets for vandalism and arson. When such inadequate security is confronted with a criminal, it is unfit for purpose and worthless. Like a ticking bomb, they can create a serious problem on any property. This is unheard of in any other country.

It doesn't make sense having fire doors that don't protect against the fires

And yet, despite these facts being well known, it continues to be a problem impacting consumers and businesses alike. The truth is that a fire door with an unprotected fire rated letter plate has no fire, arson, intruder, crime or vandalism resistance and would instantly fail the proper fire and smoke resistance test. 

 Source - Chiltern International Fire Ltd:

'A letter plate will only have fire resistance integrity when in the closed position. If the letter plate is open it would instantly fail integrity by the 25mm gap gauge criteria.'

It is important to recognise the possible route for smoke and fire leakage through the letter plate. In the 2018 FPA / RISCAuthority study, it was found that enough toxic products entered through a 100mm diameter kitchen vent into an occupied 50m3 room to cause incapacitation and possibly death within 10 minutes of the fire breaking in to the part of the cladding housing the vent.

Considering that the 230mm x 55mm open aperture of a 4" x 12" Victorian Letter Plate is 1.6 times larger than the open area of a 100mm diameter kitchen vent, one can imagine how detrimental the open letter plate would be in the case of a fire. For the final exit door to be fit for purpose measures must be taken to ensure that the letter plate is protected. Fire door tests must reflect real life.

The testing regime for fire doors and doorsets with a letter plate must be reviewed to ensure it includes the real-world factors when they will be installed and used in a building

PowerPrize Limited was the first one to raise this issue and campaigned for many years to deliver the message. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, more attention will be given to fire safety and the situation will change. For the mean time, the only way to stay safe is to protect the letter plate.

 

Owners/managers

In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, the owners/managers of the premises, which are covered by the mandatory legislation, should think long and hard before forgoing protecting the letter plate against arson.

Within the Grenfell Tower, fire doors to flats were fitted with the letter plates. Among other possible reasons, this is a feature in the fire door that could undermine the compartmentation of flats and fire protection of the common escape route where smoke and toxic gases were allowed to spread. Furthermore, while Grenfell fire was not started by letterbox arson, it could have been with these doors if someone wanted. 

Arson prevention follows from a plethora of documents, including the mandatory RRO, Building Regulations 2013 Part B and The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Protecting the letter plate advised and recommended for Fire Risk Assessment purposes by BAFE Scheme: SP205 Version 2: December 2012, The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and a number of Guidance documents, including RC48 Risk Control Arson Prevention document developed through the RISCAuthority and published by the Fire Protection Association (FPA), The FPA Design Guide for the Fire Protection of Buildings, ASFP Guide to Inspecting Passive Fire Protection for Fire Risk Assessors (paragraph 3.3) and in the Local Government Association (LGA) Guidance document on fire safety for blocks of flats. 

In the consolidated Advice Note: "Building safety advice for building owners, including fire door", published by the government on 20th January 2020, it says that security is a key element of fire prevention in blocks of flats and one cannot solely rely on third party certification. It further says that concerns with the performance of these doors may be triggered by a number of factors. Needless to say, the unprotected letterbox is one of the concerns.

In case of an accident owners/managers are risking hefty fines or even imprisonment.

Does home insurance cover arson fires? This is clarified by Morgan Clark Loss Assessors: 'Your claim could be rejected if you knew about a potential fire risk to your property and if your property doesn't comply with the necessary safety legislation, including the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.'

If you are a 'responsible person' and do not want to end up with a court judgement against you, take a notice that entrance/exit doors with the unprotected or under-protected letter plate would often fall short of the demands for fire safety imposed by the currently mandatory legislation, in particular the RRO, Building Regulations 2013 Part B and The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The latest mandatory legislation is introduced by the Fire Safety Bill (The Fire Safety Act 2021)  

Those responsible for the fire safety within a building that they own or manage are literally playing with fire if they condone or ignore this issue.

Fitting secure by design letter/mailbox products from IdealGuard™ range will ensure the letter plate superb security against all nomenclature of potential threats without impediment to mail deliveries.

The products are superior to any other letter/mailbox and ideal for the landlords and housing providers, owners/managers and occupants of commercial and domestic properties. They appeal to insurers and offer real peace of mind to everyone concerned.

Making the property more secure and the insurance claims less likely IdealGuard™ products may reduce insurance losses for the insurance companies, the property owners and occupants.