Why Roll-Up Doors?

By Ray Van Gunten

Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) member companies lead the industry in the use of roll-up doors for vehicle compartment access. The use of roll-up doors began more than 30 years ago when the roll-up door idea and product were brought over from England.

Nearly 70 percent of the fire and emergency vehicles produced today use this technology. The main advantages roll-up doors have over swing-out doors include eliminating potential for damage when leaving a station with a high side door open; easier compartment access; safer environment for both the operator and the vehicle; easier and quicker maintenance and repair; and, in most cases, lower overall costs for the vehicle manufacturers. This article will look at these advantages along with new safety and security features that were not available when roll-up doors were first introduced.

Compartment Access

It is much easier to access a vehicle compartment that has a roll-up door when you are at a fire or accident scene and space is limited. Once the compartment is open, it can be left open with no fear of another vehicle pulling beside and clipping the door. Compartment design also allows equipment to be removed more easily because there is no large lip on the bottom or the sides of the compartments. Granted, you have to allow for the head room required by the door coil but, in most cases, this is less than the wasted space on the bottom and sides required by swing-out doors.

Operator and Vehicle Safety

Roll-up doors allow operators to stay closer to the vehicle when accessing compartments. One does not have to step back to open it, whereas a swing-out door can push the operator into the path of another vehicle or force the operator back if the wind catches the door. If a swing-out door is left open, there is a chance that it could be clipped off by another vehicle or, in some cases, actually cause damage itself.

Maintenance and Repair

While roll-up doors are not maintenance-free, their maintenance is fairly simple and should be accomplished as follows.

  • Wash the exterior of the door. Do not pressure wash the doors because it tends to push the dirt back past the seals and into the curl or ball and socket between each slat. Dirt pushed back into this area can cause the seals to deteriorate faster and the joint to bind. When washing the doors, use water pressure similar to that of your garden hose at home and spray on an angle instead of straight on. This will prevent the water from penetrating the slat seals and clean the dirt from between slats.
  • In dusty and salty environments, keep the track areas clear and lubricated. To remove dirt and grime from the track area, use a rag and something that can break down grease, grime, and other road dirt. Use brake cleaner when the tracks are really bad. After the tracks are clean, use a silicon-based lubricant and spray into the tracks. Never use grease or any other lubricant that is going to collect dirt when the vehicle is operational.
  • On a lesser frequency, remove and clean the tracks while at the same time cleaning the dirt and grime from the end clips at the end of each slat of the door. To take the tracks off, remove the fasteners. If lights are attached to the tracks, be careful not to damage the wires to the lights. Once you remove the side tracks, pull the door down to the bottom of the opening; be careful not to pull the door down too far and cause it to jump off the rollers and hang from only the counterbalance. If this does happen, the door will have to be fed back over the wheels when cleaned and ready to reinstall the tracks. You may also have to secure the end of the door at the header with vice grips prior to cleaning to keep it from coiling back up. Once the tracks and sides of the doors are clean, open the door and feed both tracks onto the bottom rail and into position. You can then fasten the tracks back into position.
  • It is also important to clean the areas of the seals that rub against the door. Do not use a solvent-based cleaner that will break down rubber or plastic. Use a mild cleaner to wipe the areas of the seals that touch the door. This will not only clean the dirt off the seal but also increase the longevity of the seal itself.
  • If the doors have a keyed lock, it also helps to spray a little silicon lubricant into the key slot. This not only allows the key to slide in easier but also cleans and prevents any corrosion inside the lock itself.

If you perform this maintenance on a regular basis, your roll-up doors will provide years of safe and reliable service.

Repair of a damaged roll-up door can also be much quicker and less expensive than a swing door. Specific parts, such as individual slats, can be replaced where most of the time a damaged swing door has to be completely replaced. This can provide cost savings and quicker repair. Parts can generally be shipped within a couple of days. If they have to be repainted, the time could be a little longer. If you need an entire roll-up door, you can get the opening width, opening height, and header height and have a new door made. Most new roll up-doors also have a serial number on a name plate somewhere on the door. The serial number should give the roll-up door manufacturer all the information needed to make a new one. If you need a swing-out door, you have to get with the vehicle manufacturer to get the specifications of the particular door and then have it made.


Many safety features, or options, can be added to the door. Some of these include the following:

  • Manual Locks: In addition to the bar lock, a basic keying system can be used to keep the compartments secure. This is usually a two-point locking system through the side tracks.
  • Door-Ajar Switches: Usually these switches are used to turn the compartment lights on and off and provide the driver with the status of all the compartment doors-either open or closed.
  • Power Locks: These can also be installed to enable the driver to unlock doors prior to leaving the vehicle and then lock them when ready to drive away. This eliminates the need for manual, keyed locks.
  • Compartment Lighting: Most compartment lighting provided by the roll-up door manufacturer is LED strip lighting. It is usually mounted on or near the track, shining light back into the compartment. In some cases, it is even possible to provide different colored lighting. Too much light can be as detrimental to the operator as not enough light.
  • RFID Power Locks: With new technology and more stringent security requirements, radio frequency identification (RFID) can be used to not only secure the compartments at the scene but also limit access to compartments with restricted medications. More will be available as technology is integrated by the roll-up door manufacturers.
  • Motorized Doors: Although expensive, it is possible to replace the spring in the counter balance with a tube motor. More design work between the vehicle manufacturer and roll-up door manufacturer is required because the headroom required increases since a motorized door cannot be roller assisted (the door goes over a wheel and then onto the counterbalance). Motorized doors have to be “roller-only,” going directly onto the counterbalance.

Roll-up doors are fairly simple and are used extensively today in the fire and emergency vehicle industry. This industry has realized that there are many benefits to using roll-up doors. The two most important benefits are operator safety and quicker repair times (less downtime). With some of the newer technology, security and locking systems are probably going to change too.

One of our key concerns at FAMA is ensuring that apparatus are kept in excellent working order at all times so they can respond reliably during an emergency. Parts breakdowns and installation instructions should be available from the roll-up door manufacturers, so feel free to call and ask for them. Knowing your doors and maintaining them will ensure they always work when you need them at the fire scene.

FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.

RAY VAN GUNTEN has been president of Diamond Roll Up Door, Inc., and Dover Roller Shutters since March 2008.

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