Fire Door SignThere are some things that strike you as just plain odd in the UK. Have no fear – this entry, and similar ones to come, is not going to turn into generalised rants. It’s just that some things in the UK are a bit particular.

The first of these that I would like to examine are fire doors. Now, I am all for stopping fire wherever possible, but I do think the Brits get a bit obsessed with it. Between my desk and the canteen in my work building, a walk of perhaps 50 metres, there are no less than 6 fire doors that are to be kept shut at all times. Almost every door in an administrative building in the UK seems to have one of those blue ‘Fire Door Keep Shut’ stickers on it. So what are the reasons for this?

Do we have more fires in the UK? According to stats from the International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics, the UK has an equivalent number of fire deaths a year to other developed countries of a similar size, and indeed more than France or Germany. Read the PDF report here.

Do we maybe have a twisted conception of fear of fire? It’s hard to know. Maybe the Brits are more fearful of getting burnt then others, and this is a reassuring measure? The Brits are more fearful of crime than most European countries, despite crime being lower than the European average in many areas. I don’t know of any evidence to back up my fire fear theory though.

It could of course be to do with stringent health and safety at work regulations. But are we stricter than other countries in this regard? Are Swedish or Dutch firms and organisations not equally as attentive to the dangers?

Or is it to do with that last old reason – Britain’s bad buildings. Maybe the materials we use are worse than in the rest of Europe, and the average age of our buildings older. Maybe there is also less investment in sprinker systems etc.? For sure very few British buildings use automated fire doors that close only when a fire alarm rings.

I would very much like to read suggestions about this – can anyone give me a good idea why the Brits have so many fire doors in their buildings?


  1. I am refreshed to know that i am not the only one who thinks this. I live in the uk for work, my accommodation has fire doors everywhere and we have weekely fire test alarms… weekly! People who live here are all nurses and we do night shifts and we are all in turn woken up at absurd hours because of this. The stubborness of doing it at times where they know people are sleeping strikes me as pure evil. I have a fire detector directly on top of my stove as well. Again i think it is absurd… there is an entire ceiling available, but no, they had it just in top of the stove. This means that on top of the weekly test alarms we have multiple weekly false fire alarms. I can’t keep my shoes in the corridor, which is the only part without a carpet installed because it is seen as a hazard.
    There is no changing my mind, brits are paranoid by fire. I could tell you about a million absurd stories, including one where they asked me to keep the windows shut in case someone threw a cigarette but in my room..
    The worst part is that I injured my shoulder because of how heavy to push or pull these doors are.

  2. Hans Walter

    I’m from South Africa. Let me tell you only business has them. To get out of buildings in the UK in the event of fire would be dangerously slow as their are fire door closers on every door exits included yet the gaps under the doors would let in a gale force wind. Ludicrous PC correct ness gone wrong.

    • Andrew Carlton

      Hi, fire doors in the UK are designed to slow/stop the spread of the fire. Each door is designed to let people escape & then seal once the fire is in the room they connect to. There is a limited gap under each door & no need for a fire seal (because hot air rises). Also, if you could feel the ‘wind rushing’ when a fire had taken hold then you’re probably standing outside the building. Fire safety isn’t political correctness, it is fire safety.

  3. Robert E

    I am a Fire Engineer and Fire Door Inspector.

    I would like to understand if you, the blogger stand by the observations made about Fire Doors and fire safety measures in light of the Grenfell Tragedy and many other significant fires recently? [2019]

    • fire doors had nothing to do with grenfell, it was incorrect use of wrong type of materials.

    • I am very interested in this question of fire doors, particularly in light of grenfell. It seems to me that fire doors (and frequent drills) are held with contempt by an awful lot of people. They are enforced by large institutions worried about culpability more than adherence and actual safety, and other countries don’t have them, and simply don’t seem to need them.

      As far as I can tell, Grenfell is evidence that this british fire safety system is rotten from top to bottom: deregulation at the level of corporations and political favour for wealthy people meant that those people died, and the survivors don’t actually have recourse for justice. Meanwhile, public institutions and HMOs (and the less well-off people who live and work in them) suffer a continual overregulation which constrains the internal architecture of their buildings and the space they spend their life in.

      Would fire doors have saved lives in Grenfell? Where is the evidence that these particular irritants have saved lives? Why don’t they implement them in other countries with the same zealotry?
      Are the right people worried about building safety? Or is covering your ass enough, like the politicians, building regulators, contractors and manufacturers have successfully done for Grenfell.

      I am genuinely looking for studies/evidence on fire doors and drills so please help me if you can.

  4. True that fire doors are becoming a serious necessity, because of various reasons. Mainly because of security reasons. It becomes very important to choose the right solid wood door. Wooden doors are of various types solid oak doors, high gloss doors, fire doors,etc…

  5. Hi Jon, just come across this blog and although its dated 2005 I hope you are still interested in a response on the subject as I am a fire door inspector and have a background of service in the fire brigade for many years and have seen the death and devastation after a fire.

    Having said all that I agree with your comments about far too many fire doors being provided. The problem is that responsible persons as defined in the UK fire laws do not know who to trust or even where there are third party accreditations these are not suitable and sufficient. Builders also install a ‘job lot’ throughout a building of fire doors rather than spend time and more importantly money on where fire doors should be provided. I see it every day in my work where incompetent individuals recommend fire doors where they are not required.

    The problem lies in the UK Governments approach to risk assessment and how since 2006 the onus is on the ‘responsible person’ to ensure a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment has been carried out at their premises.
    If all premises were inspected by a ‘competent person’ or qualified fire door inspector with knowledge on fire compartmentation and means of escape routes, then half of the fire doors identified in a building could be dispensed with. I am passionate about not over providing fire doors but I seem to be in the minority in ensuring the minimum requirements are met including inexperienced serving fire safety officers which go over the top more times than I would like to mention.

  6. Steve Wilhelm

    I was told its stems from the Great Fire of London.

  7. hello I got here as the others after googling “England fire paranoia”. Me and my girlfriend developed a theory that the origin is in the great fire of London of XVII Century that determined fear of other devastating events in the centuries that followed.

  8. Rachael

    I love how both comments on this article are from US expats wondering about this issue. I am a university student from the US studying in Scotland and I too have noticed and wondered about this British obsession, nay paranoia about fire. They seem to think that fire is either prevalent, or imminent, or both. As a tenant in a rented house, I am constantly being instructed on fire safety measures, and told to check our fire alarms, and to keep our hallway clear of clutter in case you trip over stuff trying to get out of your house in case of fire, it just seems really excessive! Even our bedroom doors are fire safety doors! I was thinking that maybe it was just that the estate agents being overly cautious about protecting themselves from being sued in the (rare!) event of a fire breaking out in one of their properties. But I am now both glad and even more curious that this appears to be a national UK paranoia about fire. Maybe the memory of Great Fire of London is somehow still embedded in the national consciousness… or too many people were scared by the ending of Jane Eyre…

  9. Mark P

    Haha! I am another expat from the U.S. as well, I have noticed the same thing. The amount of these fire doors in my office building is just plain ridiculous. I’ve tried asking people why there are so many fire doors, especially compared to the U.S., where we hardly seem to have any, couldn’t get a good answer.

    I saw this whole” Fire Door – Keep Shut” decal the first time only here in the U.K.

    No wonder here I am on Google, trying to get an answer!

  10. I’m glad I found this. I am an expat from the US, working in England for the summer. One of the first things I noticed is how obsessed everyone seems to be with fire doors, fire alarms, fire drills, etc. Very bizarre. One of my coworkers is the “fire marshall” for my work area. Almost every building in Britain has a “fire assembly point” out in the parking lot where everyone is supposed to meet — like we’re in elementary school or something.

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