The Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) has welcomed calls from the London Fire Brigade (LFB) for mandatory sprinklers in all new build schools, after new figures show that fires in London school have increased by a third in just 12 months.
According to figures from the LFB, there were 90 fires in the capital’s pre-schools, nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools in 2017, up from 67 in 2016. Worryingly just two of the 90 schools affected had automatic sprinkler systems fitted.
The number of schools with sprinkler systems remains at a shockingly low figure, despite there being an increase in reported fires. Between January 2010 and December 2017, for example, 707 schools were affected by fires – out of these only 14 of the schools were fitted with sprinklers. Furthermore, the LFB stated that last year 184 schools in London ignored the fire service’s advice to fit sprinklers in new school buildings or during major refurbishments of existing buildings.
Dany Cotton, the London Fire Commissioner, has openly criticised the Government for failing to make sprinkler systems mandatory in new school builds, commenting that it was “staggering that such a simple safety measure is so easily omitted from the designs.”
“Millions of pounds are wasted every year repairing fire damage in London’s schools when sprinklers could have prevented the spread of a fire,” Cotton said. “This is not just about saving money. When a school is closed it disrupts a child’s education and affects parents by closing breakfast and after school clubs.”
To make matters worse, the Fire Protection Association (FPA) has claimed that the average cost of repairing the damage of large school fires has increased from £330,000 per fire in 2009 to a staggering £2.8 million in 2014.
Iain Cox, Chair of the BSA commented, “In Scotland and Wales, it is a legal requirement for all publicly funded new schools to have sprinkler systems installed; however, this is not the case in England. Instead, our guidance in a document called Building Bulletin 100 states that there is an ‘expectation’ they are fitted rather than installation being legally required. However, most new schools are being built without sprinklers and this guidance is ineffective and bypassed.
“Sprinklers protect property and provide life safety,” Cox continued. “They ensure occupants get out of the building and that the building is still standing. In the case of schools, having a sprinkler system means that disruption to the pupil’s education is kept to an absolute minimum if a fire does break out. In fact, in most cases of fires at schools where sprinklers are fitted, classes can continue within a matter of hours, if not a day.”
The call from the LFB follows the National Education Union (NEU) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) having written to Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, asking why schools have been classed as being too ‘low risk’ to be given fire sprinklers.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said, “Grenfell Tower should have been a defining moment in the way we view safety in public buildings, but it seems that health and safety is still seen as an opportunity to cut corners and save money.”
The BSA, who’s aim is to raise awareness of the benefit of sprinkler systems and ensure that more building owners are aware of the benefits to property protection, business resilience and life safety, share industry wide concerns regarding disruption to education. Government reports have stated that even a single missed day of education can have significant effects on future exam results. The installation of sprinklers could limit the damage from fire, significantly reducing the potential disruption to the students’ school life.