A debate that has taken place over the past year regarding the need for fire sprinkler systems in British schools appears to have been settled in favor of sprinklers. On behalf of the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN), Ronnie King OBE, who serves as Honorary Administrative Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group, has been steadfast in his support of fire sprinklers for new schools, which generally have been fitted with sprinklers since the 2007 publication of Building Bulletin 100: Fire Safety Design for Schools (BB100). As such, he has led the opposition to a recent proposal to amend the bulletin by removing the “expectation that all new schools are sprinklered with the exception of low risk schools.” 

Although Mr. King’s concern’s were originally dismissed, he was able to point to an Executive Summary for the proposed revised BB100 published during 2016 that specifically stated:  “The Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety and therefore BB 100 no longer includes an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them”.

Mr. King set about raising support from the fire protection community, and in a letter dated 16 December 2016, Lord John Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, clarified that while the draft revision of the bulletin was intended to make the guidance in the document more user-friendly, “unclear phrasing” in the draft has “inadvertently given stakeholders the impression that we have changed our position on fire safety. This is absolutely not the case.”

It has been pointed out that some fire risk assessments are being used to determine that schools can be considered “low risk” on the basis of life safety and that sprinkler systems are therefore not needed.  However, unlike fire safety regulations based on life safety considerations only, the risk associated with school properties is also required to be based on property protection considerations, and British schools have a long history of arson incidents.  British Home Office figures show there have been 1,900 fires in schools over the past 3 years with many resulting in a level of damage such as that experienced in the August 2016 fire at the Selsey Academy in Chichester, a total loss despite the efforts of 75 firefighters over hours of time. Students will be in temporary quarters until a new school can be built in two years. Although insurance covers some of the cost of such fires, national finances and society also bear costs, since a growing number of Academies are insured under a government program and because pupils’ education suffers when they have to use temporary accommodations.

Mr. King and the NFSN are now working to ensure that all ambiguities are eliminated in the revised bulletin, and that new British schools will continue to have the benefits of fire sprinkler protection as the norm.