The wider impact of fire

Another huge warehouse fire has once again brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of unsprinklered buildings. About 120 firefighters and 25 fire engines were called to battle the blaze on September 18th which destroyed much of a warehouse and a self-storage facility in Tottenham. Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but the lasting damage to several businesses in north London will be felt long after the fire was extinguished by the fire and rescue service.


The consequence of a major fire for a business can be devastating and many never return to the marketplace. It can prove impossible for small businesses and some medium-sized ones to recover from the effect of fire; and evidence shows larger businesses can choose to consolidate operations in other sites following the loss of a site to fire. Both productivity and local jobs are lost in these cases.


In either case, the resulting fire has an impact on a number of businesses within the supply chain. Companies supplying the fire-damaged business will lose trade temporarily or even permanently; businesses which depend upon products or services from the fire-damaged business have to find other means of supply; businesses surrounding the fire-affected business will often have to cease trading for the duration of the fire and sometimes even longer.


Nearly all fires in industrial and commercial buildings (ICBs) cause transport disruption, while many also require residential evacuations and school closures. There are also environmental impacts and costs including carbon emissions. A study by Bureau Veritas has calculated that up to 350,000 tonnes of CO2 a year are emitted because of fires in ICBs. Furthermore, the same study has calculated that more than 9 billion litres of water are needlessly used by the UK fire and rescue service (FRS) annually to extinguish fires in ICBs (equivalent to 15m UK households’ daily water use).2 This vast amount of water used each year to put out fires in ICBs could be reduced if more buildings were fitted with sprinkler systems. Moreover, fires are very challenging to local water supplies as noted by the number of fires where the Fire and Rescue Service encounter issues with water supply and pressure. Delays can occur when requests to the water provider are made to boost the supply, losing valuable time in fighting the fire.


While the precise impact cannot be calculated, the smoke and emissions generated from fire are pollutants which can lower the quality of the air that we breathe. Fire water run-off can, in certain situations when buildings contain pollutants, contaminate watercourses and is costly to treat. Furthermore, there is significant unnecessary waste and use of resources to rebuild destroyed property.


One of the most efficient and effective ways to reduce the impact of fire is through measures which ensure that when fires start they are quickly extinguished so that damage is minimised. Fire sprinkler systems do just this – they make buildings and businesses resilient to the impact of fire because they automatically control or even put out the fire before the fire and rescue service arrives, with the result that the business can be up-and-running again usually within hours of the incident.


Proven time and again with consistent reliability, sprinkler systems control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases and are a small price to pay to ensure people and property are protected.