Last year 47 people died in fires in Scotland, of these 40 were in dwelling houses. In this report Gordon Gilmour MBA MRes DMS MFireE FCMI, Secretary/Vice President of the Scottish Branch IFE, outlines the views given in a recent sprinkler seminar in Scotland and asks the question: is the time right to fit automatic sprinklers?  

Historic Scotland has long been a proponent of the intelligent use of fire safety systems as part of its wider approach to the protection of heritage buildings and their contents. The approach adopted in 1992 to bring Duff House back into public use as a visitor attraction serves as an early example of this. At this location, a holistic approach to integrating passive fire protection, advanced fire detection, surveillance and access control was coupled with the first installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system in a Grade A building.

Stirling Castle is one of Scotland's most iconic sites and is, in terms of national identity, probably second only to the much larger Edinburgh Castle. Constructed in a highly important strategic location where the Highlands meet the Lowlands and where routes from the north diverge to the east and west, the castle dominates not only an alluvial plain of great fertility but also the lowest, historical crossing point of the River Forth. It is no accident that the location is close to two of Scotland's major battlefields, Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314). It is also the site of a historic use of sprinklers.

Scottish Sprinkler Seminar  

On Tuesday 21st February a joint Fire Sprinkler Seminar, organised by BAFSA, the Scottish Branch of the IFE and Central Scotland FRS was held at Barcelo Stirling Highland Hotel, Stirling, with the intention to raise awareness and propose that "the time is right to fit automatic fire sprinklers in buildings and houses." There was a good attendance from all parts of the public and private sector communities.

To provide a more comprehensive view of some of the issues, speakers from across the UK came to discuss various case studies on the site of Stirling Castle, where a particularly historic use of sprinklers has taken place. The major refurbishment of the Royal Apartments in Stirling Castle (completed in the summer of 2011) generated an opportunity to consider the benefits of providing fire suppression in a larger structure where property protection would be the primary benefit. The extensive nature of the refurbishment (amounting almost to an internal reconstruction) allowed a fire risk assessment to consider wider issues and a decision was made to install the first watermist system in a Scottish historic structure.

Another speaker identified high-rise building hazards and showed what happened when a fire occurred in a Sheffield high-rise building without sprinklers − describing the overall loss and costs incurred following the fire. In Scotland, we have implemented the 'lessons learned' from these cases in properties such as the National Library of Scotland's George IV Bridge building and the National Trust for Scotland's Newhailes and Broughton House. In 2007 Historic Scotland successfully installed a sprinkler system in Corgarff Castle as a means of compensating for issues relating to life safety (and hence continuing use for education), poor water supplies and serious access problems for the Fire and Rescue Service.

Fire Safety in Scotland  

Scotland has moved on considerably over the last 50 years in terms of fire safety; the number of fire deaths have reduced thanks to foam furniture legislation, fire safety legislation and smoke detectors in the home. However the number of fire deaths occurring in homes in Scotland remains far too high and an increasing number of these fatalities occur in homes where smoke detectors are fitted. Over the recent festive period in Scotland several people lost their lives in house fires, many if not all of these people could have been saved had automatic fire sprinklers been fitted in their homes.

There have also been an increasing number of firefighter deaths while attending fires throughout the UK; again the fitting of automatic fire sprinklers could have brought many of these fires under control very quickly − potentially preventing the needless loss of life.

We are also seeing an increasing number of fires in houses in remote areas where there have been loss of life and total loss of the building. Recently in the Grampian Fire and Rescue Service area a large country house was totally destroyed, fortunately in this case no lives were lost; however had sprinklers been fitted the building could have been saved.

Following the tragic Rosepark Care Home fire in 2004, the Scottish Government took steps to ensure that elderly residents in care homes were protected by automatic fire sprinklers; however this change to Building Standards only applies to new build or altered residential care homes. Recently we have seen a number of incidents including one fatal incident in existing care homes in Scotland.

Increasing Sprinkler Installations  

The progress made by the Scottish Government over the last eight years in terms of installation of automatic fire sprinklers in residential care premises, sheltered housing premises, enclosed shopping centres, high rise dwellings and large warehouses is slowly being recognised. The addition of schools and open plan dwellings to this list two years ago is welcome. However we still seem to be avoiding the type of property where the largest number of fire fatalities occurs in Scotland, that is the single family dwelling house.

It is pleasing to note that two years ago Angus Council in Tayside started installing automatic fire sprinklers in all new social housing, the same year Fife Council agreed to follow Angus Council's initiative. Anne Jones has recently managed to gain cross-party support for legislation in the Welsh Assembly for the fitting of automatic fire sprinklers in all new housing in Wales. Since 2010 all new housing of more than two storeys, all hospitals, care homes and hotels in Norway will be require to be sprinklered.

In 2010, 340 people died of fire-related deaths in the UK, down from over 1,000 in 1978. However 157 of these deaths occurred in premises where smoke detection was installed, operated successfully and raised the alarm. Many of the fire fatalities involved people under the influence of alcohol or drugs who did not wake up to the fire alarm − some were elderly who were incapable of making their own unaided escape from the house, for them the fire alarm was a death knell. Automatic fire sprinklers could have saved these people: they act for people who cannot act for themselves.

"The time is right to fit automatic sprinklers - let us act now!"

David McGown GIFireE Director Service Delivery, Central Scotland FRS
Ian Gough, Technical Adviser, BAFSA
Steve Seaber FIFireE, Consultant, SFS Partnership

Fire Related Deaths. The figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests by BBC from 54 out of 57 fire services.
Rosepark Care Home, Fatal Accident Enquiry Report
Building Regulations Scotland
Historic Scotland: