A call by the National Fire Chiefs Council for all schools to have sprinklers fitted, following the destruction of two schools in Derbyshire this month has been backed by fire detection and life safety specialist CDS.
Neither of the schools which were destroyed, in Mickleover and Darley Abbey, had such systems in place – and the devastation has prompted the fire service to renew its plea for English schools to be afforded the same level of protection as those in Scotland and Wales.
The NFCC, which says there are around 1,500 fires a year in schools across the UK, has been calling for legislation to make them obligatory in new and refurbished schools for a number of years.
It says the rate of schools being fitted with sprinklers may have fallen from 70% to as low as 15% of new builds.
NFCC chair Roy Wilsher said: “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.”
Chief fire officer of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service and NFCC’s lead for sprinklers, Gavin Tomlinson, added: “It is devastating to see the impact of these two fires. The current guidance allows a number of interpretations to the fitting of sprinklers which must be rectified. There are a number of loopholes 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.
“Sprinklers are one of a range of fire safety measures that would not only protect our schools from fire and prevent injuries, but they would also protect against costly rebuilds and of course, protect against the stress and anxiety caused to the children who need their education.”
The Association of British Insurers says the most expensive school fires cost around £2.8 million to rectify.
CDS has been working with schools across the UK for more than 20 years to supply fire detection and life safety systems.
Its MD Simon Abley explained: “We agree totally with the advice from the NFCC about the clear benefit to schools of installing sprinkler systems. But there is more schools could be doing immediately.
‘We are concerned by the number of schools who either do not have monitoring in place or have monitoring in place that doesn’t comply with regulations. With arson attacks predominantly taking place when the school is closed those without an early warning system will not know the building is on fire until often hours after the blaze starts and the alarm is raised by a member of the public who sees it out of their window in the middle of the night.
“We are now seeing some schools choosing the latest technology which means fire alarms can be monitored away from the premises and in accordance with British Standards. Such products use 4G networks or the internet, with the signals transmitted to a remote monitoring centre.”