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Fire Chiefs Issue Warning As Just 5% Of Schools In England and Northern Ireland Have Sprinklers

'There is a one in 20 chance of a school having a fire.'

25/10/2017 11:38 BST

All new school builds or school refurbishments should have sprinklers fitted, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is urging.

The policy is already mandatory in Scotland and Wales, but fire chiefs say just 5% of schools in England and Northern Ireland have sprinklers fitted.

The NFCC part commissioned an analysis that looked at more than 2,000 incidents attended by UK fire services in sprinkler-protected buildings. It found sprinkler systems correctly operated on 94% of the fires and controlled or extinguished 99% of those fires. 

The council told HuffPost UK that statistically, there is one in 20 chance of a school having a fire, but that does not explain the whole picture as “many fires are not reported to fire and rescue services, particularly if they self-extinguished or are put out by staff.”

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The NFCC said: “By engaging with designers and architects, NFCC believes schools could be designed to inspire learning, address the broadening requirements being placed upon them as community resources and incorporate this essential fire safety system as standard.”

According to the council, the impact of school fires is “significant”, as they said the impact on children’s education is not confined to lost work but often includes longer travelling times, disrupted social groups and poorer facilities.

NFCC believes if sprinklers were considered at the design stage of new build or refurbishment of existing buildings, costs could be kept to a minimum.

According to government estimates (DCLG), the average cost of school fires between 2000 and 2004 was £58 million per year.

In August 2016, government ministers were criticised after they abandoned the requirement for fire sprinklers to be fitted in new schools.

An update to the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘Design in Fire Safety in Schools’ stated at the time, according to the Independent: “Building regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety.

“Therefore, [guidelines] no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them.”

Julian Parsons, of the Chief Fire Officers Association, told The Argus at the time: “This is a retrograde step that doesn’t make any sense. Sprinklers don’t just save lives, they prevent fires from spreading and causing significant damage and disruption to our children’s education.”

The Department for Education said all schools must have a ‘Fire Risk Assessment’ and new schools undergo an additional safety check while being designed.

“It has always been the case that where the risk assessment recommends sprinklers in a school building, they must be installed,” a spokesman told the BBC.

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