Fire station bay doors serve a number of functions: allowing quick and safe egress of fire apparatus; sealing out heat, cold, and inclement weather; and lending a visual appeal to the aesthetics of the building.
It’s those main considerations, along with cost and maintenance factors, that fire department personnel and designers keep in mind when putting bay doors on new fire stations or outfitting older stations with newer model doors.
Steve Bonacci, assistant sales manager for Electric Power Door, says his company has been in the door business for 93 years and he’s spent 40 years with them. “Fire departments generally have three choices for their apparatus bay doors,” Bonacci points out. “The least expensive is an overhead sectional door. Then there’s the rolling steel door, which is essentially a curtain that rolls up. Third, there’s the four-fold door.”
Bonacci notes that four-fold doors are bi-fold doors that split in the middle and open both to the left and right. “We only market four-fold doors for fire stations because they are high-cycle and low-maintenance,” he says. “They are custom-designed, and owners can spec what they want-how many windows, an arched opening, or wood cladding over the steel. The sky’s the limit as to the design.”
|The Sacramento (CA) Fire Department chose to install Electric Power Door four-fold doors on its Fire Station Number 5. (Photo courtesy of Electric Power Door.)|
Four-fold doors can be engineered to be hurricane- and tornado-resistant, Bonacci says, or even bullet- and blast-resistant if needed. “We can cover all the boundaries a station may need.”
Kevin Landgraff, sales manager for Door Engineering and Manufacturing, says four-fold doors have been growing slowly in popularity for the past dozen years or so. “Four-fold doors are the main product we make for fire station apparatus bays,” he says. “They have an advantage in operational speed, opening in less than seven seconds, and also are energy-efficient in keeping heating and cooling losses to a minimum. Many of them have large glass panels in them that are one-inch, insulated, low-E, tinted high-performance glass.”
Besides performance and speed, four-fold doors also have the advantage that there is no wear like that on critical components at the top of overhead sectional or rolling steel doors. “With a four-panel door, you have two panels folding off to each side, operated by an overhead mounting that rotates to pull the door open and push it closed,” Landgraff says. “Perhaps a weather seal may wear out with age, but that won’t affect the operation of the door.”
|Hormann-Flexon installed its Speed Guardian 4000 rolling steel doors at the El Paso (TX) Fire Department’s Station 37. (Photo courtesy of Hormann-Flexon.)|
Landgraff says that Door Engineering and Manufacturing, which has been in business since 1965, has a number of cladding options available for its four-fold doors. “A wood-grain powder coat is a fairly standard one that provides historic-looking doors for older stations or makes a newer station look older,” he notes. “We also have done real wood cladding, but that requires high maintenance.”
Peter Burnham, vice president of sales and marketing for Hormann-Flexon, says his company builds high-speed rolling doors for fire stations. Hormann-Flexon has been building the doors in Europe since the 1950s and in the United States for the past seven years. “Our Speed Guardian 4000 is a rolling steel door that has 15⁄8-inch-thick, hot-dipped galvanized steel panels that give a lasting and durable surface,” Burnham says. “The door opens at 80 inches per second and will last for hundreds of thousands of up-and-down cycles.”
The Speed Guardian 4000 uses seven-inch-high, acrylic, double-pane polycarbonate windows that are Duratec-insulated with a special finish to prevent marks and scratches caused by cleaning.
Bryan Wallace a manufacturer’s representative at Wallace Sales Group, a representative for both Door Engineering and Hormann-Flexon doors, says, “What’s handy about Door Engineering’s four-fold doors is that the door gives you the full height of the opening first, so the driver can see the doors parting in front of him,” Wallace points out. “With an upward-acting door, like an overhead sectional or rolling steel door, you get the full width of the door opening first, but the vehicle operator might not see the door as it goes above his line of vision from the fire truck.”
|Door Engineering and Manufacturing retrofitted the Kansas City (MO) Fire Department’s headquarters station with inward-folding four-fold doors with custom window panes. (Photo courtesy of Door Engineering and Manufacturing.)|
Wallace notes that the trend for door manufacturers is to make faster doors that allow fire vehicles to get out of the station quicker. “Both Door Engineering’s four-fold doors and Hormann-Flexon’s Speed Guardian door are providing faster speeds on opening,” he says.
When retrofitting a fire station with new bay doors, departments have to consider the disadvantages of each type of door as well as their advantages. “With a four-fold door, the main consideration is the base requirement because the bi-parting doors will take up a certain amount of room on both the top and the sides,” Wallace says. “A second consideration is that they cost more than upward-acting doors, but they don’t have the maintenance costs of other doors.”
With an upward-acting door, Wallace says the main disadvantage is that the door has to counteract gravity. “They are weighty, and there’s usually a spring system with a strong motor, spring assist, or balancing system,” he says. “If the spring breaks and the door is down, it could be difficult to open it. Stations have to have maintenance contracts to keep that type of door in good operating condition.”
Bonacci agrees with Wallace’s assessment of disadvantages. “The four-fold doors are more expensive than overhead doors, but once you buy them, they are there for the life of the building,” he says. “The downside on an overhead door is the lower number of cycles it will operate before you have to change or upgrade the springs. With coiling-type doors, the downside is there aren’t many options in terms of design, customizing, or large panes of glass.”
|The Northwest Fire Department, in Tucson, Arizona, uses four-fold doors on five of its 10 stations, shown here on Station 38. The drive-through station uses roll-up doors at the back. (Photo courtesy of the Northwest Fire Department.)|
Both Types in Service
Cheryl Horvath, division chief of logistics for Northwest Fire Department, in Tucson, Arizona, says Northwest Fire uses a mix of door types on its 10 stations. “Five have four-fold doors and five have overhead doors on the front,” Horvath said. “However, the stations with four-fold doors are all drive-through, so they have the four-folds on the front and roll-up doors on the rear.” Horvath adds that the four-fold doors open much more quickly than the roll-ups do and also cost less in terms of maintenance. “And if they break, they can be opened pretty easily,” she says.
Doug Emmons, Northwest Fire’s assistant chief for support services, says the cost of an overhead panel door is much less than four-fold doors, which is why the rear of some stations have either overheads or rollup doors. “When we decided on four-fold doors, we had to consider the fact that they fold inward,” Emmons notes, “But because we have drive-through apparatus bays, there was extra room available for inward-folding doors.”
Emmons says that folding doors are relatively new in the fire service, especially in the West. “They are a little more expensive, and the workforce is more familiar with multipanel sectional overhead doors,” he points out. “But as the cost of folding doors comes down, we’ll see them used more,” he points out. “And in terms of rapid response times out of the station, that will be a second driving factor in putting in four-fold doors.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.
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