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Brigade's warning to special education schools

03 June 2019

NEW AND refurbished special educational needs schools built without sprinklers are failing to protect vulnerable children from the effects of disastrous fires the Brigade warns.

Children with special educational needs often need familiar routines and surroundings. A devastating school fire could cause the children and their families significant disruption and upset by displacing them from the classroom or school and, because children with additional needs require specialist facilities, it could be difficult to find a suitable alternative interim education provider.

The Brigade has long been campaigning for the inclusion of sprinklers or other automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS) in all new and refurbished schools. However many schools are being built or are having major refurbishment works without sprinklers or AFSS being included.

Since 2014, there have been 549 fires in schools, nurseries and university buildings in London and shockingly, just 13 of the buildings had sprinklers fitted.

This year to date, there have been 41 school fires in London with none of them having sprinklers fitted.

The Brigade has submitted its consultation response to the Government’s technical review of Building Bulletin 100 (BB100) by continuing its calls for sprinklers to be a mandatory inclusion in all new school builds and refurbishments. Currently there is an expectation within the guidance for sprinklers, however in most cases, the benefits of AFSS are ignored and not put into designs, with costing used as the justification.

The Brigade is also calling for guidance to be updated around the evacuation procedures of children with additional needs. An evacuation strategy which involves those with any disability should take into account their health and maintain their dignity during the evacuation process.

The current BB100 guidance, which looks at design for fire safety in schools, does not currently reflect that school buildings where there are significant numbers of children with special educational needs are considered as a medium to high vulnerability risk.

Dan Daly, assistant commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “So far this year we’ve been to at least two school fires a week and none of these buildings had sprinkler systems which would have greatly reduced the damage caused by the fire and the devastating effect on children, parents and staff.

“Minimising the disruption and impact of a fire is particularly pertinent at special educational needs school where vulnerable children learn. Finding another educational facility that can meet the needs of  vulnerable children can be  exceptionally difficult if there has been a serious fire.

“We’ve been campaigning for sprinklers in schools for well over ten years and despite this we continue to be ignored. It is time for the government to act.”

Between July 2016 and June 2017, the Brigade responded to 184 building control consultations for new build schools or school refurbishments in London and called for automatic fire suppression systems to be adopted. However these were only included in just two per cent of cases.

The Brigade has also called for the inclusion of sprinklers or other AFSS in all purpose built blocks of flats, all homes where vulnerable people live and all care homes and sheltered accommodation blocks as part of its consultation response to the Government’s review of Approved Document B of Building Regulations.