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Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
August 30, 2016

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Government urged to rethink school fire safety guidance in wake of Selsey Academy fire

The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) has urged the government to revisit fire-safety design guidance for schools in the wake of a fire that devastated a West Sussex school.

The Department for Education (DoE) recently proposed revisions to Building Bulletin (BB) 100: Design for fire safety in schools. However, FSF chairman Brian Robinson believes the revisions have “relegated the principles of property protection to an afterthought”.

Selsey Academy suffered extensive damage to its buildings and their contents during a blaze on 21 August. The start of term has been delayed until 12 September and the school’s 453 pupils will now be taught at four locations around the Selsey area.

The 2007 version of BB 100 recognises the societal impact of school fires and signposts users to a tool kit, developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), that takes a risk-based approach to determining an appropriate level of fire protection. The FSF has expressed concern that the government’s latest revisions have apparently overlooked these considerations.

Many of our members see no reason to change the current policy of a risk-based approach for the requirement to install sprinklers in schools and urge the Department to reconsider.” Fire Sector Federation Chairman Brian Robinson

“As we would expect the revised draft focuses quite correctly on the safety of occupants and their safe evacuation,” said Robinson.

“However, it appears to have relegated the principles of property protection to an afterthought and this fundamentally alters what the document seeks to achieve. Effective property protection can only be achieved through a blend of risk-appropriate active and passive measures and we believe that this principle is not fully emphasised in the new draft.

“We believe that guidance incorporating best practice for property protection is important because school buildings are funded by the taxpayer and in most cases some arm of government is the owner. BB100 should therefore give guidance on what is necessary to protect a public asset from fire.”

Sprinkler ommission

The Fire Sector Federation says that many of its members – which include bodies representing firefighters and the fire safety and construction industries – also expressed misgivings that the revised text neglected to advise that new school buildings should be fitted with a sprinkler system.

“Many of our members see no reason to change the current policy of a risk-based approach for the requirement to install sprinklers in schools and urge the department to reconsider,” said Robinson.

In July James Dalton, director of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), called on the government to make sprinklers mandatory in care homes and schools.

The numbers of fires in educational establishments has fallen in recent years, a fact the DoE will feel vindicates its stance. However, the FSF has pointed out that the scale and cost of such fires is actually growing.

Research conducted by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) on behalf of UK insurers reveals 119 fires in schoold between 2009 and 2014 at a cost in excess of £150 million and £1.3 million per incident. The year on year average cost has soared from just £330,000 in 2009 to £2.8m in 2014.

Figures from the National Fire Sprinkler Network revealed that in at least 16 instances automatic fire sprinkler systems significantly reduced damage and disruption at school fires.

“There is little doubt that both active and passive fire protection and fire risk management is effective, so there would appear to be little logic in reducing requirements for any measures needed to maintain an appropriate level of property protection,” said Robinson.

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ASH Fire
ASH Fire
September 10, 2016 9:31 pm

Buildings can be rebuilt Lives cannot! Smoke Kills Fire Demolishes!
Are we getting it rite ?

Ali Brockett
September 16, 2016 9:54 am

In reply to ASH Fire- a resounding ‘no’. I cannot believe (well..probably can) how many schools built within the last 10-15 years (principally under PFI) that are disasters waiting to happen. Lift any ceiling tile and have a look at the fire protection. Incomplete walls, badly sealed penetrations (especially above the fire doors). No doubt someone will kick off at this in puffed up defence but Im only relating what Ive seen. And its a sad picture. Not even sticking plasters of sprinklers will solve some of these issues.

ASH Fire
ASH Fire
September 17, 2016 1:38 pm

Ali Brockett Ali we are currently working on an Aged School Building. There is No Fire stopping above the ceiling tiles Structural walls have services passing through area to area un protected. I agree Bearing in Mind Sprinklers are Ceiling mounted the flaws are obvious!.
Ash Fire deal with the Smoke Element of the Fire Incident and Personal escape and protection calculated exhaust of the smoke assists in the calm escape from the building for persons inside. unfortunately without very prompt response from the FRS the building will be lost but the occupants will be safe.

Ali Brockett
September 19, 2016 11:36 am

I agree, occupants are kept safe but what do you do with the pupils when they have no school to go to. yes lives are saved but the disruption on the local community is immense especially whilst the process of investigation, inquiry, refinancing and rebuilding has to take place.Correct compartmentation is a definite strategy to limit damage as well as maximising escape times. “But it costs too much” is the bleat. No it doesnt. Having to go back and redo it costs too much.

ASH Fire
ASH Fire
September 19, 2016 7:50 pm

Agreed with a Fully functional Ventilation system even in the Closed periods the Smoke emanating from the School building would raise the alarm thereby “one would like to think” alert the FRS and reduce the property loss.
Following from that disruption to the community in general.