Business fails to recover from catastrophic fire

Three-and-a-half years on from a destructive fire that engulfed a plastics manufacturer’s unsprinklered factory in Lancashire, the lasting effect is undeniable as the £50 million turnover business has gone into administration with the loss of 200 jobs.

The fire at the Total Polyfilm site in Bamber Bridge on 10th May 2016 took 60 fire fighters to control and resulted in the total loss of the factory. Nearby residents and businesses felt the impact from the smoke and environmental pollution while roads were closed causing disruption. Production was transferred to another site while the building was rebuilt, but this heavily affected day-to-day business. The factory was fully operational a year after the fire but it took an additional seven months due to restoration delays for the relocation to be complete. Despite the 60-year-old polythene business returning to operations, the company never properly recovered. This was further compounded by the loss of key customers and reduced sales across their key markets of agriculture and industry.

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. Unless trading can continue quickly, businesses feel the financial pressure of maintaining cash flow and often flounder. Fire is indiscriminate and inexplicable, but that doesn’t mean actions can’t be taken to control fire when it occurs.

Contrast the total loss of the Total Polyfilm factory to a fire that happened in February 2016 at a similar plastics manufacturer in the West Country, BPI. They returned to operation within 24 hours. The difference was that the BPI factory had a sprinkler system that contained 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

Today automatic fire sprinklers are not widely used in the UK because the guidance rarely prescribes their use. Yet automatic fire sprinklers prevent large fires because they activate automatically over a fire, controlling or even extinguishing the blaze before the Fire and Rescue Service arrives. They therefore save lives and protect firefighters who attend incidents – but they also prevent significant damage or destruction of a building by fire.

It’s often the case that businesses are not valuing what they own in terms of property and think they are going to recover a lot quicker than they do. They are failing to see the real impact of fire and leaving themselves exposed.

The inclusion of a sprinkler system can prevent major financial and equipment losses, containing what could be a potential major disaster and ensuring it is only a minor inconvenience. Proven time and again with consistent reliability, it is a small price to pay to prevent a business’s hard earned success from going up in flames.

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