Derbyshire’s Chief Fire Officer Responds to Government Consultation on School Sprinklers..

Derbyshire’s Chief Fire Officer/Chief Executive Gavin Tomlinson has responded to a Government consultation on Building Bulletin 100 (BB100): Fire Safety Design in Schools, stating that the document being consulted upon represents a real lessening of standards in fire safety and provides a potential loophole that would allow building developers to follow alternative design guidance, circumventing the requirement for the fitting of sprinkler systems.

CFO Tomlinson whose Derbyshire Firefighters responded to three significant school fires in 2020 wants the government to reconsider the draft BB100 document and bring English standards in line with policies in Scotland and Wales, where sprinklers are mandatory in all new and substantially refurbished schools. CFO Tomlinson has written to the Government expressing his concerns as part of the consultation which closes on the 18 August 2021.

CFO Tomlinson said: “In 2020 I witnessed three schools destroyed by fire. Sadly, despite the best efforts of the Firefighters attending they were unable to save Harrington Junior School, Long Eaton in May 2020, St Mary’s Catholic School in Darley Abbey on the 3 October 2020 and Ravensdale Infant School in Mickleover on the 5 October 2020.

“Such loss is hard to accept as I have no doubt that if sprinklers had been fitted in these schools, the education, mental health, wellbeing and lives of countless children and their families would not have been as severely impacted upon and the school buildings at the heart of these communities, would not have suffered the devastation they did.  The sprinkler system would have ensured minimum damage and disruption and allowed the premises to return to normal as quickly as possible.

“Unless legislation changes and the English Government emulates policies in both Scotland and Wales where sprinklers are mandatory in all new and substantially refurbished schools, sadly we face a future where we may continue to be called to such devastating fires.”

BB100 Consultation

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), of which CFO Tomlinson is the Protection and Business Safety Chair, is calling on the Department for Education to think again on sprinklers and work with the fire and rescue sector to make schools safer. The proposed new BB100 guidance falls well short of expected design guidance in schools in only requiring sprinkler installation in specific circumstances; this will mean that it will still be possible for designers and developers to circumvent the improvement in areas such as automatic fire suppression systems and evacuation lifts by using other building design guidance such as Approved Document B or BS9999, whichever guidance gives them more for less.

The original BB100 guidance, when first released in 2007, acknowledged the important role of sprinklers and stated that “all new schools should have fire sprinklers installed except in a few low-risk schools.” CFO Tomlinson and the NFCC believe the new guidance being consulted upon is a retrograde step and represents a real lessening of stands in this area.

NFCC believe that:

  • Automatic water suppression systems should be mandatory in all new and substantially refurbished school buildings.
  • Government should be looking to emulate the policies in both Scotland and Wales where sprinklers are mandatory in all new and substantially refurbished schools.
  • School fire are not generally life threating but their impact upon the lives of pupils, their family, the community and the wider education establishment cannot be ignored and should not be underestimated.
  • The draft guidance being consulted on is a retrograde step and represents a real lessening of standards in this area.
  • The draft does not appear to mandate the use of the BB100 design guidance in all new school buildings.
    • This will mean that it will still be possible for designers and developers to circumvent the improvement in areas such as automatic fire suppression systems and evacuation lifts by using other building design guidance.
  • Government should publish the Impact Assessment that informed the need and rationale for changes in the current draft of BB100.
  • The draft guidance still allows for the use of combustible materials on external walls.  Whilst is does propose the banning of cladding in new school buildings above 18m in height, this is tokenistic as very few schools are designed to this height.

CFO Tomlinson went onto say: “Derbyshire has always led from the front raising awareness of the effectiveness of sprinklers in any setting. We have already made a bold statement in Derbyshire. Following the October 2020 school fires, both Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council signed a Statement of Intent, committing to fit sprinklers and the right fire safety measures in new build schools and primary and secondary schools undergoing significant renovation, refurbishment, or extension.

“While this great work in Derbyshire continues, we need the Government to support the recommendations made and presented as part of the consultation, to ensure we protect our schools, and the education of the children who attend them in the future.”

You can read more about the survey on Building Bulletin 100: Fire Safety in Schools at https://consult.education.gov.uk/technical-standards/building-bulletin-100/

The Government consultation is live until the 18 August 2021.