Cllr Brian Coleman, the Chairman of the London Fire Brigade, calls on councils to include the installation of sprinklers in their Building Schools for the Future programme.

The benefits of fire sprinkler systems in school buildings cannot be underestimated. Figures produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government reveal that over 1300 school fires a year in the UK are attended by Fire and Rescue Services, with a direct cost of over £80 million. When a fire occurs in a building with sprinklers, fire deaths are almost eliminated, while fire injuries and property damage are both reduced by over 80 per cent. On top of this there is a huge improvement in firefighter safety, as well as a decrease in damage to the environment.

Annually, schools in the UK have a 1 in 8 chance of a fire, and nearly a third of all these fires start in school time. Of course the main concern is for the safety of all those within school buildings, but the potential for the disruption of education and loss of pupil’s coursework should also be factored in. This inevitably causes considerable distress, while younger children can lose their whole sense of confidence in school safety in the aftermath of a fire. Meanwhile there is the arduous problem for parents of relocating displaced pupils, and the substantial interim arrangement costs for local authorities.

Sprinkler systems have proved to be effective in minimising fires at
source, in turn reducing the scale of damage as well as the risk to
life. They award fire-fighters more time to arrive at the scene, while
creating less dangerous conditions for them to operate in. Moreover, as
part of their design they can be connected to alarms with a direct link
to the Fire and Rescue Service, enabling the earliest possible response
to a fire.

Concerns about the expense of sprinklers are misguided. Those
incorporated into new schools take up only 1.8 to 3 per cent of the
total build cost. Indeed these costs can be recovered within five years
through reduced insurance premiums (savings which were last calculated
as 65 per cent). Over the ten years ending 2005, the cost of school
fires has been rising steadily from £49 million in 1995 to £67 million
in 2005. Perhaps most significantly, losses in buildings equipped with
sprinkler systems equal just 10 per cent of those without.

Additionally, schools are increasingly used outside normal hours by
communities as resources for adult education, sports facilities, and
meeting venues. Thus when a fire disrupts this civic amenity, it
negatively impacts on the wider social environment.

Due to the elevated risk of school fires in deprived areas, those from
the most disadvantaged backgrounds are most likely to be affected. The
incorporation of sprinklers in the Government’s £45 billion Building Schools for the Future Programme is fundamental to safeguarding this
initiative, and improving the future safety of our schools. The wider
social and economic impact of fires, as well as the financial costs,
needs to be factored in. It is incumbent on councillors who either have
executive positions or who sit on planning committees, to ensure that
new schools and other public buildings are suitably fitted with modern
fire sprinkler systems.