New warehouse destroyed by blaze had no sprinklers

A recently-opened unsprinklered warehouse in Daventry is being demolished and will be rebuilt following a devastating fire in the early hours of March 12th. Despite more than 50 firefighters tackling the blaze, the Gardman garden supplies distribution centre was completely destroyed, impacting not only the business and its employees, but also retailers, the local economy and the environment. Once again, what needs to happen before sprinklers become the accepted norm?

With a £60.5 million turnover, Gardman is a major supplier in the garden centre industry. The ripple effect from this destructive fire comes at the height of the supply season and the loss of £20 million of stock will be felt by retailers who rely on their more than 4000 lines of garden products.

The local community has also felt the impact of fire, with disruption and smoke warnings issued following the blaze. Fire water run-off will need to be monitored by the environment agency and there is the environmental impact of disposing of the damaged property and the costs, resources and materials required to rebuild it. Whilst thankfully there was no loss of life, the lasting effect is undeniable.

Designed to be BREEAM rated ‘Very Good’ and completed at the end of 2017, the massive 400,000 square foot warehouse was sadly not matched in terms of resilience, with sprinklers designed out in favour of sustainable considerations. One reason could be the fact that many business owners believe that if they build to regulation they are creating a resilient building – this is not the case, they are simply creating a compliant building where the requirement is for life safety, not property protection. According to research carried out by YouGov for the Business Sprinkler Alliance, nearly seven out of ten (69%) businesses are unaware that current building regulations in the UK do not adequately prevent and protect against the devastating effects of fire.

Having sprinklers fitted would have protected this business in the long run. They safeguard against potentially disastrous losses and also aid life safety. By preventing large fires, sprinklers also protect the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions, reducing excess water use by the fire brigade and eliminating water supply contamination. Above all, they maintain business continuity. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems find they are back up and running in a matter of hours.

Recent research by CEBR has shown that each year fires in warehouses alone (which are only 15% of industrial and commercial building stock) cause a direct financial loss to business of £230 million per year; cause a loss of £190 million per year in GDP through lost productivity and impacts up and down the supply chain; lose the treasury £32 million in tax receipts and are the cause of 1000 job losses.

Initial estimates of the cost to install sprinklers at the Gardman warehouse would have been in the region of £850k to £1.2 million. This is significantly less than the rebuild costs which would be in excess of £30 million, not to mention the cost of business interruption and environmental clear up.

It’s often the case that we spare no expense in value engineering projects to get them down to the lowest price, but in so doing we make compromises with buildings so things such as sprinklers are taken out. When people realise their mistake, it is too late.

The destructive fire in Daventry ironically took place at the very start of National Sprinkler Week, and the NFCC’s (National Fire Chiefs Council) longer term plans to push for legislative change and greater inclusion of sprinkler systems in the built environment.

Sprinklers are the most effective way to ensure that fires are suppressed or even extinguished before the fire service can arrive. They save lives and reduce injuries, protect firefighters who attend incidents and reduce the amount of damage to both property and the environment from fire.