sprinklerA major fire which 'ripped through' the upper floors of a student accommodation block in Bristol city centre, has led the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) to once again highlight the need for automatic fire suppression to be installed in such buildings.

In Bristol the fire is believed to have started in a kitchen but swiftly spread destroying the roof and two floors of the building. Fortunately the building was empty at the time and there are no reports of injuries.

However, BAFSA suggest that a properly installed and maintained sprinkler system would have suppressed the fire and limited the damage. In particular the disruption and distress to the students who will now need to be rehoused would probably have been avoided and the cost to the University minimal. Experience also suggests that most of the occupants of the damaged areas will have lost all their possessions which are unlikely to have been insured.

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A BAFSA spokesperson said: "Starting a course of study at a university or college of further education is generally a young person’s first time away from family and home.

National statistics regarding fires in student accommodation are not available, but this incident is certainly not an isolated example. Indeed, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, who cover the university city of Sheffield, reported their firefighters attended 115 incidents in student properties during 2011.

As a result, a growing numbers of fire safety experts and Chief Fire Officers are asking questions of developers who, on behalf of governing bodies, fail to include such protection in new buildings.

In January 2012 a fire sprinkler system operated in a building accommodating students studying at Aston University. A fire had occurred in the kitchen area of one of the student ‘pods’ in the newly built 6 storey block in Bagot Street, Birmingham. When they arrived, West Midlands’ fire crews discovered the fire to be “out on arrival” as one head of the sprinkler system had activated and extinguished the fire.

BAFSA has published a document tackling the subject BIF 23: “Fire Sprinklers in Student Accommodation “ which is available for download from bafsa.org.uk.