On the day when many schools in England open again, it’s a good time to consider the fire risks in educational buildings and how to manage them. Maybe new laws on sprinkler systems are the way ahead?
This from Zurich;
School fires have destroyed the equivalent of 1,100 classrooms in the last five years, new figures reveal.
Fire crews have been called to tackle 2,300 school blazes in England, which completely gutted 47 primary and secondary school buildings, and seriously damaged 230 others. More than 74,000 square metres, an area equivalent to 10 football pitches, of teaching facilities have been damaged by fire in this time, according to analysis of Home Office data by leading insurer Zurich Municipal.
Zurich Municipal now estimates 390,000 teaching hours could be lost in the next year as a result of large fires alone, causing disruption for 28,000 children, who may already be struggling to catch up following school closures during the pandemic. The findings – based on Home Office data from all 44 fire authorities in England –has led to renewed calls for mandatory sprinklers to be fitted in new and refurbished schools, bringing the country into line with Wales and Scotland where they are already compulsory.
Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, said: “Young people have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. Ministers must ensure no more classroom time is lost for a generation that has already fallen behind. These figures highlight the devastating impact of fires on the school estate. Unless the government changes the law on sprinklers, accidental and malicious fires will continue to blight schools and children’s futures.”
Between April 2015 and April 2020, 1,467 primary schools and 834 secondary schools were hit by blazes. Just two per cent of these schools were fitted with sprinklers. Zurich estimates the average repair bill for large fires alone is £2.9m, with some fires costing up to £20m.
The findings come as the government embarks on one of the biggest school building booms in recent times, with £1bn being poured into rebuilding 50 schools over the next five years.
But Zurich warns that, without sprinklers, fire could damage five times as many schools as will be improved under the government’s rebuilding programme.
Watson said: “Fire won’t just wipe out progress in improving the condition of schools, it will send it into reverse. It makes no economic sense to pump millions of pounds into refurbishing schools without protecting them with sprinklers. Sprinklers are proven to contain the spread of blazes and limit the damage they inflict.”
As part of its “levelling up” agenda, the government intends to target 70% of its £1bn funding at schools in the Midlands and North. Zurich’s analysis, however, shows that three out of the five fire authorities with the highest rates of school blazes – Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire – fall in these regions. Watson said this makes the case for sprinklers in new and refurbished schools even more pressing.
Watson added: “It’s absolutely right that the government invests in these areas. But without protection from sprinklers, fires will continue to break out unchecked. The government’s failure to mandate sprinklers in schools is exposing pupils, teachers and firefighters to an unnecessary level of risk. It’s not just life safety the government should be concerned about, but the impact of all too frequent school fires on children’s life chances.”
Eddie Tuttle, Director of Policy, External Affairs and Research at the Chartered Institute of Building, said: “It is shocking to see the extent of the damage done by school fires, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the vital importance of school attendance to our children’s futures. The potential damage done to classrooms by fires will lead to more teaching hours lost and more disruption for students, families and communities, at a time when so many are already struggling to manage. Continued school blazes will have profound consequences for the next generation, and one school fire – let alone 2,300 – is one too many.”