The National Fire Chiefs Council has once again called for all schools to have sprinklers fitted, following the devastating loss of two schools in Derbyshire over the weekend.
It has emerged that neither building had sprinklers installed, which could have reduced the damage suffered substantially. NFCC has been calling for sprinklers to be installed in schools for a number of years. Every year there are around 1,500 fires in schools across the UK, which disrupts the education of approximately 90,000 students.
The closure of a school also has a large social and economic impact on local communities, which could be reduced by the fitting of sprinklers. According to figures from the Association of British Insurers, the most expensive school fires cost in the region of £2.8 million to address. Over a four-year period, an average of 24 large loss fires occurred every year, totalling £67.2million.
NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher has urged the government to ensure legislation in England is the same as in Scotland and Wales, where it is mandatory for sprinkler systems to be fitted in all new and refurbished school.
He said: "England is lagging behind Scotland and Wales when it comes to introducing legislation to fit sprinklers in schools. NFCC believes all new schools - and those undergoing refurbishment - should have automatic fire suppression systems fitted.
In our response last year to the 'Technical Review of Building Bulletin 100: Design for fire safety in schools,' we highlighted that the rate of schools being fitted with sprinklers may have fallen from 70% to as low as 15% of new builds.
"We have a responsibility to ensure buildings are safer; sprinklers in schools is clearly a move in the right direction. Children across the UK have had their education severely disrupted this year due to the pandemic; a fire in a school will only make this worse, putting additional pressure on the education service and parents.
Mr Wilsher also pointed out that schools are important community assets which need to be protected. He emphasised the importance of ensuring fire safety remains a key priority during the pandemic and to make it part of the COVID-19 secure planning, along with revisited escape routes and fire drills.
Chief Fire Officer of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service and NFCC's lead for Sprinklers, Gavin Tomlinson, said: "It is devastating to see the impact of these two fires over the weekend.
"These fires are resource intensive and to see the damage which could have been reduced substantially by sprinklers is heart-breaking."
He added: "The current guidance allows a number of interpretations to the fitting of sprinklers which must be rectified. There are a number of loopholes regarding the fitting of sprinklers which should be looked at, which allows designers to take alternative approaches to fire safety. This guidance needs to be re-examined and changes made to protect our schools."
A recent flat fire in high-rise student accommodation in Merseyside highlighted the importance of sprinklers. The electrical heater fire activated the sprinkler system which then contained it ahead of the fire service arriving, thereby minimising the risk of a more significant incident developing.