NFCC and LFB call for sprinklers in schools

NFCC and LFB call for sprinklers in schools

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and LFB (London Fire Brigade) commissioner Dany Cotton have reiterated calls for sprinklers to be fitted in new and refurbished schools.

BBC News reported on the NFCC and LFB calls, which calls for ‘all new and refurbished schools in the UK’ to be fitted with sprinklers, with the systems already mandatory in new schools in Scotland and Wales but not England or Northern Ireland. The NFCC said that this ‘must change’, while Ms Cotton accused the government of ‘playing with children’s lives’, as there are around 700 schools fires per year in England alone.

Last year, the Department for Education (DfE) in England consulted on new draft guidance stating that building regulations no longer required ‘the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety’, adding that ‘therefore [guidelines] no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them’.

Ms Cotton told the news outlet she was ‘appalled’ on seeing this guidance, and added: ‘I think it was outrageous. 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.

‘Fires in schools cause major disruption to pupils. Breakfast and after school clubs are cancelled and often, a costly repair bill could have been avoided. If they are incorporated from the design stage, sprinklers are around 1% of the total build cost.’

This consultation was dropped after the Grenfell Tower fire, so the guidance ‘was never changed’, though the DfE stated that its ‘expectation [was] that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted’ unless considered ‘low risk’ and installation ‘would not be good value for money’. However, less than a third of 260 schools built since 2014 have sprinklers, with LFB having recommended sprinklers in 184 new or refurbished schools. Despite this, only four schools took on and implemented this.

The NFCC added that the proportion of schools built with sprinklers fell from 70% a decade ago to a third in 2016, with only 5% of schools in England and Wales having sprinklers. On interviewing representatives from the construction industry, BBC News found that many claimed ‘schools can be designed to be low fire risk with exit routes, fire doors and reinforced walls’.

Andrew Aylsbury, 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.’

In response to the investigation, the DfE stated that the safety of children ‘was their priority’, with all schools required to have a fire risk assessment and all new schools required to ‘undergo an additional safety check while being designed’. It added that ‘it has always been the case that where the risk assessment recommends sprinklers in a school building, they must be installed’.