The fire engulfed the Royal Albion Hotel on July 15th, leaving behind extensive debris and posing a formidable challenge for firefighting efforts from across three counties. The immediate vicinity near the fire had to be evacuated due to the thick smoke and debris. As the smoke spread across Brighton, residents were advised to keep their windows shut to prevent inhalation of smoke. The fire raged through the night and into the following morning fanned by strong winds, necessitating the intervention of the London Fire Brigade in addition to the fire and rescue services from East Sussex, West Sussex, and Surrey. The use of high-volume pumps was required to combat the blaze which was the largest in Brighton for 30 years. Due to concerns about structural integrity, sections of the hotel had to be demolished. After two days of disruption, normal services in this busy area of Brighton began to resume.
In the aftermath, it was discovered that textured wall coatings contained asbestos. The rooms were charred, and the roof had entirely collapsed. While thankfully there were no casualties, this destructive fire resulted in all parts of the hotel suffering extensive damage.
This alarming vulnerability of hotels to fires extends beyond the Royal Albion Hotel incident. The tragic 2017 fire at Cameron House Hotel near Loch Lomond resulted in two fatalities and three individuals requiring hospital treatment. A subsequent report by Sheriff Thomas McCartney advocated for the mandatory installation of active fire suppression systems, specifically sprinkler systems, in historic building conversions intended for hotel use. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) endorsed this recommendation, urging its application to all public-access buildings. Cameron House Hotel has since reopened with enhanced fire safety measures, including a sprinkler system.
This alarming pattern of hotel susceptibility to fires is evident not only in the cases of Albion House and Cameron House Hotels but also in the destruction of the Grade II listed Victorian Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne in 2019. Once again, the outcome remained distressingly consistent, leading to building demolition due to safety concerns. Reconstruction efforts have been slow, with the Claremont Hotel awaiting restoration almost four years after the fire.
Surprisingly, building standards and regulations lack clear guidance on the mandatory provision of sprinkler systems in hotels, irrespective of their height. If such regulations had been in place, sprinkler systems would likely have contained these fires by activating automatically. Beyond their primary function in fire containment, evidence underscores the critical role that sprinkler systems can play a vital role in safeguarding human lives. It’s imperative we break the cycle of history repeating itself.
For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org