Meadowhead School, Sheffield

When a fire broke out overnight in a secondary school in Sheffield, an automatic sprinkler system activated and extinguished it, minimising damage and ensuring students would be able to return to their education with little disruption.

Fire engines and firefighters from Lowedges, Central and Birley Moor stations were called to Meadowhead School at 11.55pm on Tuesday 9th January. The fire in an art room was contained due to the sprinkler systems activating, stopping it from spreading and causing more damage.

Commenting on the fire, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s head of prevention and protection, Steve Helps, said: “As this incident proves, automatic fire sprinklers are most effective during the initial stage of a fire occurring, as a properly installed sprinkler will detect the fire’s heat, initiate an alarm, and activate just moments after the flames appear.”

Home office figures show there have been 1500 fires in schools over the past three years. The impact of these fires both financially and in terms of disruption to students, teachers, families and the community can be devastating.

The Association of British Insurers says the most expensive school fires typically cost around £2.8 million to address, and over the past four years an average of 24 of these large-loss fires have occurred every year, totalling £67.2million.

“When you consider the huge costs associated with a school fire such as rebuilding, temporary relocation, loss of equipment and pupils’ academic work, it seems like an obvious move to install sprinkler systems such as this in schools. Above everything else, sprinklers give added protection to the pupils and staff at the school, and the firefighters who respond to tackle the fire. I am really pleased that this sprinkler system did its job and doused the flames to prevent it spreading to other parts of the school,” he added.

Currently, there is stronger guidance requiring sprinklers in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales, but not in England and Northern Ireland. The government is currently reviewing Building Bulletin 100 (BB100) and has suggested that the “sprinkler expectation” will be removed. The BSA wants the government to explicitly maintain and reaffirm the “sprinkler expectation” in the revised BB100 so that fewer schools are damaged and destroyed by fire.