Major insurers have joined the lobby for sprinklers and fire tanks in schools. We applaud their commitment to public safety and their efforts to convince more local education authorities and autonomous schools that modern fire fighting equipment is a must. While life preservation is the crucial factor, it should not be overlooked that the average cost of a school fire is in the millions. In some cases, tens of millions.
As one of the UK’s leading independent sprinkler tank specialists, we know only too well what can happen when not enough attention is paid to reducing risks in public buildings. Every year, up to 1,000 schools fall victim to fires. Yet, of all the properties developed for educational purposes over the past eight years, just 11 per cent have been fitted with sprinklers. Aside from the cost to the public purse of a fire, the disruption to children’s lives is considerable. They can lose irreplaceable coursework and even a sense of belonging – if they end up being crammed into portable classrooms for months while the fire damage is repaired.
Insurers point out that teachers suffer too, often being parted from notes they have amassed over an entire academic year or career. As a lobby calling for the government to make sprinklers and fire tanks mandatory in schools gathers momentum, we look at why now is the time for England to follow Scotland and get to grips with the gap in school fire safety.
Arson attacks and schools
There is a lot of evidence that points to schools posing a higher risk than some other property types for arson. While no recent major studies have been conducted into prevalence, we believe they are vulnerable simply because they are closed for long periods of time. Most schools are shut over weekends and for protracted breaks, including the six-week summer holiday. In Scotland this week, two youths were arrested on suspicion of arson following a fire at an East Renfrewshire primary school.
The blaze was reported on Sunday evening and was thankfully confined to just one room. Meanwhile, a nursery next to a school in Kent was damaged by fire earlier this month. The blaze is thought to have started in a store cupboard. In this case, arson is not suspected. The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault.
However, a report into the cause of a huge fire that devastated the Glasgow School of Art was still not completed two years after the incident. Debris was still being removed from the gutted site. It was the second fire to devastate the building.
Because of their vulnerability, we believe all school buildings should have sprinklers and fire tanks. This is how a school fire can quickly get out of control.
Fire tanks and their use in schools
Fire tanks are a good idea for sprinkler systems in schools, largely because of campus layouts and sizes. The average comprehensive school, for example, has interconnecting buildings, most often on multiple levels. Any building on this type of scale requires adequate water to contain a fire as soon as it is detected. While sprinklers will automatically be triggered, relying on mains water is not recommended. We are proud to supply and maintain water storage solutions that are exclusively designed to serve sprinkler systems.
Insurers believe the threshold for current requirements are too low, focussing solely on life preservation. They want to see more done to protect material assets as well as provide more protection for firefighters called to tackle blazes in schools. They point out that arguments over the cost of installing sprinklers don’t stand up because, often, savings passed on by reduced insurance costs eventually pay for the investment.
One of the areas being examined is the size of ‘compartments’ in a building. Some believe, with greater use of sprinklers, the existing standard size could be increased – but only for those properties with sprinkler systems. We don’t want to comment on this suggestion because it is a matter for building control and the government to examine. What we can say is that there is plenty of evidence out there to support claims that fire tanks in schools provide the most robust protection, delivering water to the seat of a fire as soon as possible and keeping it contained in those vital early seconds and minutes.
Currently, class sizes are rising in the UK. This corresponds with an increase in overall school pupil numbers. The average secondary school has a total of more than 940 students. In September, Zurich Municipal suggested that up to two-thirds of England’s schools lack systems to properly manage fire risks. After conducting research, it stated that the area worst impacted is the south of England.
Our background in fire safety
Nationwide Water Solutions installs, maintains and inspects fire tanks across the UK. Based in Yorkshire, we deliver services to a wide range of sectors. Our customers include those in manufacturing and industry as well as the public realm. We usually meet our customers for the first time when they decide they want to install a sprinkler system and need a dedicated water supply, or have concerns about the integrity of their existing water tank.
Our services include free site surveys for those looking to invest in robust water storage, fabrication of bespoke sprinkler tanks, installation and refurbishment and relining. We also conduct independent inspections that ensure sprinkler systems remain operational throughout as well as conserve water. Our team achieves this with technology that is used under water to survey the surface and components of a tank.
The fire tank repair service includes fibreglass and epoxy coatings as well as EPDM linings. We can only undertake repairs to water storage systems that have been deemed by an independent expert to be suitable. In cases where remedial action is recommended, our solutions can extensive the lifespan of a tank by more than a decade.
For further information about our products and services, please visit our website or contact us by telephone on 0345 505 254.