Pete Hammond, senior estimator, looks at a report on fire safety in schools.
A report from the insurance company Zurich Municipal has found that 480 English primary and secondary schools suffered a fire in 2019. That adds up to some 40 incidents every month.
The statistics were compiled from a freedom of information request to UK Fire and Rescue Services.
In total, some 15,000 square metres of classroom space was damaged. Only 2% of affected schools had a sprinkler system, which the insurer is calling for.
While sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, this is not the case in England.
Firefighters have been called to nearly 2,000 school fires in England alone in the last three years.
The main causes are faulty appliances or equipment, faulty electrics, arson and kitchen blazes. We recently highlighted the issue of arson in schools here.
School fires cost the country some £65 million. Worryingly, one in eight schools annually suffers a serious arson attack. Of all fires in schools, some 32% are attributed to arson.
As we recently wrote, a school is not simply a place of learning but a community asset. For example, in May last year, Harrington Junior School in Derbyshire was completely gutted by fire.
The blaze was likely caused by hot work being carried out on the site. Hot work includes, for example, soldering and welding.
Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8m to repair and in some cases over £20m.
The problem is that many schools lack the equipment and adequate fire protection to prevent small fires becoming major problems.
Of more than 1,000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, two thirds (66%) were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems, such as sprinklers.
Only 14% were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. A further quarter (24%) were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms.
In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1bn to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair programme and a further £560m in early August.
Based on large fires alone, Zurich estimates that repairs for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years – a significant portion of the government’s planned investment.
Zurich wants the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire.
Its findings have also led Zurich to launch a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools.
But sprinklers aren’t the only weapon to minimise fire damage. Advanced glazing systems are also part of the solution.
Over the years, we’ve supplied to many educational projects in the UK and internationally, including Malta and Hong Kong.
We understand the importance of containing fire at source and so minimising fire damage to other parts of the building.
That aspect of containment is what advanced glazing systems are designed to achieve. Whether as internal screens or doors, or external curtain walling, they trap fire, allowing for an orderly evacuation.
Sprinklers have their role to play, and the government should look seriously at retrofitting them across the schools seector.
But it’s also wise to ensure that every fire is contained in one discrete place because, if it can’t spread, it won’t cause widespread damage.