THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have signed a joint statement calling for mandatory sprinkler installations in new build and existing schools.

In a joint statement, the four bodies called on the government ‘to require the installation of sprinklers in schools’, including retrofitting sprinklers in existing school buildings ‘when relevant refurbishment takes place’, with the statement released ‘ahead of parliamentary scrutiny’ on the Building Safety Bill’.

Their statement read: ‘As leading professional bodies in the built environment, we believe further action is required to improve the fire safety of buildings in the UK. Lives, stock and property are saved by the use of automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS), which includes sprinklers. At present, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland differ in their requirements on sprinklers in schools yet the science of fire knows no political or geographical boundaries.

‘Fire safety of occupants and firefighters is of primary concern. Loss of schools in a community can have devastating effects. Recent research has evidenced the number of fires in schools and the benefits AFSS would bring. Achieving a more consistent approach to life safety and sprinkler installations in schools that draws on best practice from all the UK nations would provide clarity to the industry and help better protect the public and communities.

‘We support the installation of AFSS in all new and converted school buildings of any height and retrofitting to existing buildings when refurbishment occurs as ‘consequential improvements’ where a building is subject to “material alterations”.’

All four bodies said that they will each ‘bring forward guidance’ for their own professionals ‘in line with this statement in the absence of government legislation’. The reference to recent research was to the release last month by insurer Zurich of its findings from a study into English school fires, which found English scools were ‘twice as likely’ to suffer fires than other buildings. Zurich’s findings led it to launch a parliamentary petition urging MPs to ‘change the law on sprinklers in schools’.

Last week, the NFCC called for all schools to have sprinklers fitted in the aftermath of two fires at schools in Derbyshire fires, while Derbyshire County Council ‘refused to name’ other schools in the county without sprinklers after both these two fires, and another in May earlier this year.  Harrington Junior School in Long Eaton was destroyed in May, while Ravensdale Infant and Nursery School and St Mary’s Catholic Voluntary Academy were destroyed earlier this month.

The fire at Ravensdale was ‘ruled as arson’, while the fire at Harrington was ‘accidental and caused by county council staff carrying out refurbishments’, with the cause of the fire at St Mary’s having ‘not yet been disclosed’. A temporary replacement for Harrington, built by the council without planning permission in July, was constructed without sprinklers ‘despite the demise of its predecessor’, with DCC stating that this was ‘standard for temporary buildings of this nature’.

In the past five years, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) had been called out to 32 fires at schools across the county and city, and the service noted that eight of those had occurred since April 2019. The council cited the ‘perceived risk of potential arsonists targeting schools without sprinklers’ when asked to name schools, claiming that the ‘public interest in naming the schools is outweighed by the public interest in refusing to do so’.