Vulcan backing the call for mandatory installation of sprinklers in schools

3rd November 2017

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is calling for all new and refurbished schools to be fitted with sprinklers, as they are already mandatory in Scotland and Wales.

Vulcan backing the call for mandatory installation of sprinklers in schools

Following the Grenfell Tower incident, fire safety in public buildings like schools has come under close scrutiny since the tragic fatal fire in West London back in June.

All new and refurbished schools in the UK should be fitted with sprinklers, fire chiefs say. London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ms Dany Cotton accused the government of "playing with children's lives".

There are about 700 school fires a year in England and last year, The Department for Education (DfE) in England began a consultation on new draft guidance which said building regulations are no longer required for "the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety’’, meaning that the guidelines ‘’no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them."

Ms Cotton commented that she was appalled when she saw the draft guidance.

"I think it was outrageous," she said. "I thought, 'How can we play with children's lives like that?' I just do not understand why it wouldn't be made compulsory and wouldn't be made a requirement to fit sprinklers in schools at new-build stage and what I don't want to see is a very large school fire to be the thing that brings about that change."

The guidance continues to state that it is the DfE's "expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted", unless a school is "low risk" and installation "would not be good value for money".

Despite this, less than a third of the 260 schools built since 2014 under the Schools Building Programme have sprinklers.

Ms Cotton said ‘’The London Fire Brigade recommended sprinklers in 184 new or refurbished schools last year, and yet advice was taken in only four of these cases, sprinklers should be compulsory in all schools.’’

The National Fire Chiefs Council said the proportion of new schools built with sprinklers had dropped from about 70% a decade ago to a third last year - and overall, in England and Wales, just 5% of schools have sprinklers.

The construction industry says ‘’schools can be designed to be low fire risk with exit routes, fire doors and reinforced walls.’’

Andrew Alsbury, from construction firm Willmott Dixon, commented "I think if there were more money involved in school buildings I'd be looking at the need for new school places around the country - the bits of the school estate which are in really poor condition - rather than say that sprinklers was the first call, because intrinsically, pupils are safe in their schools today."

The DfE says all schools must have a Fire Risk Assessment and new schools undergo an additional safety check while being designed.

The Local Government Association said it "fully supports the installation of sprinklers in new school buildings as a cost-effective measure which can help save lives, protect property and improve firefighter safety".

MD of Vulcan Fire Training, Graham Holloway, commented: ‘’Sprinklers are being fitted in more new and refurbished schools in England and Northern Ireland, which we fully support, however there are many questions regarding their suitability:

    • Is the building suitable for such an installation;
    • Are the existing water supplies of sufficient capacity, flow and pressure, which could be a  real concern in rural communities;
    • The cost of sprinklers is more competitive in a new build than a refurbishment or retro-fit   system;
    • Are systems vulnerable to vandalism; and
    • The general cost of sprinkler systems.’’

Graham continued to state that: ‘’It would be ideal if all schools were fitted with sprinklers. Fire statistics over the years have shown that schools are subject to regular arson attacks, so at the very least having sprinklers fitted could limit the damage caused by fire. Although there have been no fatalities in school fires for more than 70 years, we shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to happen before this becomes mandatory.”

If you work in a school and would like to learn more about carrying out fire risk assessments and performing  efficient and effective fire evacuations, take a look at our specific fire warden training course for schools here.