Sprinklers make headlines at Prime Ministers questions

In a week where sprinklers have saved one of the UK’s largest shopping centres and a major paper mill from devastating fires, the topic of their use to protect property and life has taken front of stage at this week’s Prime Minister’s questions.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, has used Prime Minister’s questions, a week before the budget, to pressure Theresa May to provide central Government funding so that all similar high-rise buildings could be fitted with sprinklers.

“In the wake of the terrible Grenfell Tower fire, the Prime Minister was very clear when she said this could not be allowed to happen again, and money would be no object to fire safety,” Corbyn said. “Will she therefore now back the campaign to provide £1bn to local councils to retro-fit sprinklers to all high-rise blocks?”

It follows Corbyn’s speech last week entitled ‘Make Homes Safe’. During the speech he called on Government to set aside money to install sprinklers in all high- rise residential buildings and produced a sprinkler head to make his point – a sprinkler head that was given to him at the Labour Party conference in September by members of the BSA (Business Sprinkler Alliance).

Corbyn’s call comes just a matter of days after London Fire Brigade was called to a fire at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. With over 336 retail outlets and serving 45 million customers a year, it is one of the largest shopping centres in the UK.

Three fire engines and 14 firefighters and officers were called to the fire in a service area on the second floor. Some stock items were damaged but the fire was contained due to the sprinkler systems activating. A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “This fire highlights the clear benefits of having sprinkler systems installed. In this case, the sprinkler system has controlled and extinguished the fire, preventing thousands of pounds worth of damage to the building and the businesses inside. Sprinklers are proven to save lives and property and also allow businesses to get back to normal as soon as possible by minimising disruption.”

On the same day Norfolk Fire Service was dealing with a fire at a paper mill near King’s Lynn, with Group Manager Tim Edwards commenting, “Sprinkler systems were effective in containing a small accidental fire within Palm Paper, King’s Lynn this morning.”

However, a few days later and a fire at a residential building in Dunmurray near Belfast hit the headlines. Reminiscent of the Grenfell fire, a fire broke out on the 9th floor. Thankfully no one was hurt but the building didn’t have a sprinkler system and as a result, a number of residents have reported that they have ‘lost everything’.

Iain Cox, Chairman of the BSA commented, “A number of potentially devastating fires have been reported this week but in all the cases where sprinklers have been installed, the fires have been quickly suppressed and damage has been limited. In these instances the businesses can return to usual operation within a matter of hours. However, the fire at the residential flats near Belfast will have implications for the residents for months to come. Many will have to be rehoused and some will have lost all of their belongings. The benefit of having sprinklers fitted is clear to see and the fact that, yet again, the issue of installing them in more buildings has been raised in House of Commons is a good thing and will hopefully help to drive change and improve property and life safety across the built environment.”