There are few parts in fire construction which are of so much importance, and generally so little understood, as fire doors. Instances of the faulty construction of these, even by good builders and architects, may daily be seen. Iron doors over wooden sills, with the flooring boards extending through from one building to the other, are common occurrences. We frequently find otherwise good doors hung on wooden jambs by ordinary screws. Sliding doors are frequently hung on to woodwork, and all attachments are frequently so arranged that they would be in a very short time destroyed by fire, and cause the door to fall. In case of fire, a solid iron door offers no resistance to warping. In an iron lined door, on the contrary, the tendency of the sheet iron to warp is resisted by the interior wood, and when this burns into charcoal, it still resists all warping tendencies. I have seen heavily braced solid iron doors warped and turned after a fire, having proved themselves utterly worthless. It is needless to say that when wooden doors are lined, they should be lined on both sides; but frequently we find so-called fireproof doors lined on one side only.
Good doors are frequently blocked up with stock and other material, so that in case of fire they could not be closed without great exertion; or they have been allowed to get out of order, so that in case of fire they are useless. This has been so common that it has given rise to the jocular expression of insurance men, when they are told that a fire door exists between the two buildings, "Warranted to be open in case of fire." The strictest regulations should exist in regard to closing the fire doors nightly. Frequently we find that although the fire door, and its different parts, are correctly made, there are openings in the wall which would allow the fire to travel from one building to the other, such as unprotected belt and shaft holes. That a fire door may be effective, it must be hung to the only opening in the wall.
The greatest care must be exercised to keep joists from extending too far into the wall, so as not to touch the joists of the adjacent building, which would transmit the flames from one building to the other in case of fire. A good stone sill should be placed under the door, and the floor thereby entirely cut. Sills should be raised about one and a half inches above the level of the floor, in order to accomplish the necessary flooding of the same. If stock must be wheeled from one building to the other, the sill can be readily beveled on both sides of the wall, allowing the wheels to pass readily over it. Lintels should consist of good brick arches. When swing doors are used, they should be hung on good iron staples, well walled into the masonry, and the staples so arranged that the door will have a tendency to close by its own weight. The door should consist of two layers of good one and a quarter inch boards, nailed crosswise, well nailed together and braced, and then covered with sheet iron nailed on, or if of sheet tin, flanged, soldered, and nailed. Particular care should be taken to insert plenty of nails, not only along the edge of the door, but crosswise in all directions.
I have seen cases, where the entire covering had been ripped off through the warping tendencies of the sheet iron.
The hinges on these doors should be good strap hinges, tightly fastened to the door by bolts extending through it, and secured by nuts on the other side. Good latches which keep the door in position when closed should always be provided. In no case should the door be provided with a spring lock which cannot be freely opened, as employes might thereby be confined in a burning room.
Sliding doors should be hung on wrought iron runways, fastened tightly to the wall. Wooden runways iron lined, which we frequently see, are not good, as the charring of the wood in the interior causes them to weaken and the doors to drop. Runways should be on an incline, so that the door when not held open will close itself. Care must be taken to have a stop provided in the runway, so that the doors may not, as I have frequently seen them, overrun the opening which it is to protect. Doors should overlap the edges of the openings on all sides. Large projecting jambs should never be used.
All doors contained in "fire walls" should have springs or weights attached to them, so as to be at all times closed. Fire doors can be shut automatically by a weight, which is released by the melting of a piece of very fusible solder employed for this purpose. So sensitive is this solder that a fire door has been made to shut by holding a lamp some distance beneath the soldered link and holding an open handkerchief between the lamp and link. Though the handkerchief was not charred, hot air enough had reached the metal to fuse the solder and allow the apparatus to start into operation.
These solders are alloys more fusible than the most fusible of their component metals. A few of them are: Wood's alloy, consisting of: cadmium, 1 to 2 parts; tin, 2 parts; lead, 4 parts; bismuth, 7 to 8 parts.
This alloy is fusible between 150° and 159° Fahr. The fusible metal of D'Arcet is composed of: bismuth, 8 parts; lead, 5 parts; tin, 3 parts. It melts at 173.3°. We can, therefore, by proper mixture, form a solder which will melt at any desirable temperature. Numerous devices for closing doors automatically have been constructed, all depending upon the use of the fusible solder catch.From a lecture before the Franklin Institute by C. John Hexamer.