The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) is calling on the Department for Education to re-introduce the concept of property protection into its proposed revisions to Building Bulletin (BB) 100: Design for fire safety in schools, in light of the devastating fire that occurred at The Academy, Selsey on 21 August.
With large sections of the school destroyed, the Federation says the blaze clearly demonstrates the devastating impact that fires in schools have on pupils; and the disruption they cause to children’s education and to the local communities they serve.
The FSF highlights that the current 2007 version of BB 100 acknowledges the societal impact of fire and signposts users to a tool kit, developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which assesses the risk of a fire to determine the level of fire protection required. However, the Federation is concerned that the Government’s proposals to revise the guidance no longer take these considerations into account.
Fire Sector Federation Chairman Brian Robinson declares:
“As we would expect the revised draft focuses quite correctly on the safety of occupants and their safe evacuation. 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.”
The Fire Sector Federation represents organisations from across the fire sector and many of its members are also concerned that the revised text removes an expectation that most new school buildings should be fitted with a sprinkler system.
Mr Robinson said:
“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.”
While DoE justification for the proposed changes to the guidance appears to be that the numbers of fires in educational establishments has fallen in recent years, the Federation declares that this is only part of the story, since the fires that do occur are becoming larger and their average cost has increased significantly.
Citing large loss statistics collated by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) on behalf of UK insurers, the Federation notes that between 2009 and 2014, the 119 fires recorded by the FPA cost in excess of £150 million with an average cost of £1.3 million per incident. The statistics also show that the average cost year on year is also increasing; in 2009 it was approximately £330,000 but in 2014 it had risen significantly to £2.8 million.
Statistics from the National Fire Sprinkler Network also suggest that between 2012 and 2015 the presence of an automatic fire sprinkler system has benefited at least 16 schools, which experienced much reduced damage as a result of a sprinkler activation and little or no disruption to the education of their pupil.
Mr Robinson declared:
“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.”