Calls for tougher fire sprinkler laws in region’s schools

The revelation that firefighters have been called to Greater Manchester schools more than 200 times since 2015 is prompting calls for tougher laws on sprinkler installations.

A Freedom of Information request made to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority revealed that the fire service has attended 224 blazes over the last five years – an average of almost one a week.

Three of the fires destroyed the entire school building while ten resulted in injuries.

And analysis from school insurers Zurich Municipal shows schools are twice as likely as other buildings to be hit by a fire – prompting them to launch a campaign for a law change on sprinklers in schools.

Of the school blazes Greater Manchester fire services were called out to, sprinkler systems were fitted at just six of the incidents.

Sprinklers are proven to significantly reduce the damage caused by fire and are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, but this is not the case in England.

According to Zurich, they are fitted in fewer than one in six new English schools.

The company is now urging MPs to review the law and has started a parliamentary petition which it is encouraging the public to sign to get the issue debated in Parliament.

Despite being far riskier than average when it comes to fires, many schools also lack measures to prevent small fires becoming major disasters.

Of more than 1000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, 66% were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems, such as sprinklers.

A further quarter were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms.

Nationally, firefighters have been called to nearly 2,000 school blazes in the last three years.

Malfunctioning appliances or equipment, faulty electrics and kitchen blazes are among the leading causes of fire and in Greater Manchester, 43 fires were logged as having been started deliberately.

Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8million to repair and in some cases more than £20million.

In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1billion to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair programme and a further £560million in early August.

Zurich wants the government to ringfence some of this promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire.

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s head of education, said: “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze.

“Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, large fires will continue to blight schools and put lives at risk.

“The Government’s COVID19 investment is a critical opportunity to ensure schools are more resilient to fire.”

Nick Coombe, building safety programme lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, added: “The case for sprinklers is compelling.

“Of almost 1000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases.

“Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier.”

In response, the Government said it was committed to revising Building Bulletin 100, the Department for Education’s (DfE) guidance on fire safety design for new schools and is expecting to launch a public consultation shortly.

A spokesman said: “All schools are required to have an uptodate Fire Risk Assessment and to conduct regular fire drills. All new school buildings must be signed off by an inspector to certify that they meet the requirements of building regulations.

“Where sprinklers are considered necessary to protect pupils and staff, they must be installed.”

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