Fire devastates again and again

Yet again it seems it is the same old story. In the past month several significant fires have been reported across our news channels. Fire is indiscriminate and can affect all buildings regardless of function or size, some with devastating impacts. Each one generates its own story, has a significant local impact and all too often has lasting effects that go unreported. It begs the question: is there a better way to protect such facilities and avoid repeated incidents?

One such fire broke out at a recycling centre in Grantham on 18th March 2019, starting in the small domestic appliances processing area at about 7 o’clock in the morning before more than 60 firefighters and eight fire engines managed to quell the blaze by midday. The very same site has suffered fires in the past since being burnt to the ground in 2007.

 Lest it be thought that fire is an issue that afflicts the recycling industry alone, one does not have to look far to see further damaging events. For instance, another fire took place at a garden furniture factory in Tyseley, Birmingham, where 100 firefighters were called. Valuable stock went up in flames, with the destruction causing huge disruption to deliveries and heavily affecting normal business operation.

Thankfully lives were not lost in both situations. But it must be understood that fire’s effects can be far-reaching. There is an understandable focus on the immediately visible impacts such as: smoke plumes, controlling the contamination from firefighting water and in the case of the Tyseley fire the impact on the transport networks. It is a real hazard with real consequences which are felt for a long time – even though the fire itself can so easily become yesterday’s news.

This notion that fire can affect business operation after the flames have been extinguished is exemplified in the case of UK Snacks. The company suffered a fire back in June 2018. Destroying areas of its warehouse, the fire caused significant damage to the premises – which reputedly brought Bombay Mix to Britain.

But in March 2019, UK Snacks collapsed into administration a mere nine months after the fire. Whilst there might have been other reasons for the company’s unfortunate fate, the fire would have caused disruption to the business and showcases how companies are not always resilient after fire. Although insurance can support replacing equipment, the move to an alternate location to maintain business operations and support continuity efforts, it takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. Unless trading can continue quickly, businesses feel the financial pressure of maintaining cash flow and often flounder.

To prevent similar scenarios from occurring there needs to be more proactivity and conscious business resilience decision-making when it comes to businesses safeguarding themselves from fire’s devastating effects. Fire is indiscriminate and inexplicable, but that doesn’t mean actions can’t be taken to control fire when it occurs.

In these situations, a resilience measure such as a sprinkler system could have helped to avert and contain the fire. A sprinkler system works by only setting off the sprinklers in the immediate vicinity of a fire. A recent study of UK fire statistics showed that 95% of fires are controlled or even extinguished by the operation of fewer than five sprinklers, debunking the myth that if one sprinkler goes off then all of them will.[1] With these concrete statistics indicative of sprinklers’ effectiveness, how many more fires will happen, how many more times will history repeat itself before they become a mainstay?

1Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data, May 2017, Optimal Economics.