Sprinklers save lives and jobs and reduce repair costs

Wed 18 Mar, 2015

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is joining with fire and rescue services across the UK to support Fire Sprinkler Week 2015, which runs until Sunday (22 March)..  

This is the second annual sprinkler awareness campaign organised by the Chief Fire Officers' Association, and the focus is on how sprinklers can help businesses and education providers protect their key resources, allowing them continue operating after a fire.

  • Businesses: Many do not recover after a major fire, and this has a knock-on impact on the people who work for it, customers and suppliers. 
  • Education providers: Not only can fire damage facilities and equipment, but it can also disrupt classes, destroy important coursework and have a negative effect on the wider community.

Chief Fire Officer Jason Thelwell said: “Controlling a fire as it starts is better than repairing the damage after it has spread. Insurance covers some of the financial burden, but the impact from fire loss is far-reaching, and tackling a fire at its earliest stages is vital for the well-being of people, properties, the environment and the economy.

"We believe that more could and should be done to protect businesses and education providers against the devastating effects of fire. Sprinklers are easier and cheaper to fit than many people think, representing between one and two per cent of the cost of a new build. They save lives and jobs and reduce repair costs. In the absence of legislation, it is our responsibility to prove the case for them."

Many fire and rescue services, including Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service, have also been campaigning for years for the installation of sprinklers in new homes. In 2011, former Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones encouraged local people to sign a national petition urging the Government to bring in a new law.

In 2013, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service hosted a national sprinkler conference in Aston Clinton, and staged a live demonstration of the effectiveness of fire suppression systems as part of its continuing drive to promote the installation of sprinklers.

Following weeks of planning, and under carefully controlled conditions, fires were started and filmed in four bungalows awaiting demolition in Chalfont St Peter.

Three of the bungalows were fitted with different types of suppression system which effectively controlled the fires. The fire in the bungalow that was not fitted with sprinklers caused extensive damage.

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is currently providing advice to Paradigm Housing, who are commissioning a sprinkler system for the Chiltern Heights flats in Amersham. 

Case study 1: No sprinklers - building lost

On 15 January 2014, a fire (see picture at top of page) quickly destroyed a warehouse in Renny Park Road, Newport Pagnell, causing a plume of smoke which could be seen for miles around,

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service and Milton Keynes Council recommended the installation of sprinklers when plans for the warehouse were submitted for building regulation consultation in 2001, but the developers were under no obligation to install them.

The warehouse did not have sprinklers fitted, as they are not mandatory in this country in warehouses under 20,000 square metres. In many other countries, including France, Spain and Germany, they would have been required by law.

The good news was that the building was safely evacuated when the fire broke out and no-one was injured. Fire safety engineering designed to give added protection to the adjoining office accommodation did a thorough job.

Case study 2: Sprinklers - building saved

On 12 October 2013, an automatic fire alarm alerted Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service to a fire at a warehouse with adjoining offices near the Red Bull Racing factory in Bradbourne Drive, Tilbrook - an industrial area in the south east of Milton Keynes.

Fire engines and crews from Bletchley and Broughton attended. The fire was in a ceiling-mounted heater. It was put out by the sprinkler system, and the building was safely evacuated, before they arrived.

Fire Sprinkler Week (16 to 22 March 2015) is being coordinated by the Chief Fire Officers' Association (CFOA). CFOA is campaigning for a legal requirement to fit sprinklers in higher-risk premises, such as care homes, schools and other buildings. Laws in England are lagging behind those currently in force in Scotland and Wales, which require sprinklers to be installed in a range of higher-risk buildings.