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Hotel fires ignite further debate on sprinkler system installations

21 February 2023

A RECENT Fatal Accident Inquiry found that a Scottish hotel harboured a number of defects regarding fire safety. Tragically, two men – Richard Dyson and Simon Midgley – died in the fire at the Cameron House Hotel near Loch Lomond back in 2017. The Fatal Accident Inquiry led to the conclusion that the installation of sprinklers would have resulted in the men’s deaths being avoided.

Image credit: The Crown Office

In his 122-page report on the Cameron House Hotel fire, which was published last month, Sheriff Thomas McCartney makes six core recommendations. When it comes to the future conversion of any historic buildings such that they can be used as hotels, McCartney wants to see due consideration being given to the installation of active fire suppression systems. Further, Government ministers north of the border should also create an export Working Group to explore “special risks” in existing hotels and similar premises.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland has since stated: “The recommendation should be taken further and applied to all buildings used by the general public”. The Cameron House Hotel has now reopened with improved fire safety systems in place (including a sprinkler system).

In January 2021, Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was fined £500,000, while porter Christopher O’Malley was given a community payback order. The hotel business admitted failing to take the necessary fire safety measures to ensure the safety of its guests and employees between January 14 2016 and December 18 2017. The company admitted two charges of breaching the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.

O’Malley admitted breaching sections of Health and Safety laws relating directly to the obligation on an employee to take reasonable care for the Health and Safety of individuals affected by their acts or omissions at work.

The Business Sprinkler Alliance has commented: “One has to question why it has taken such a tragedy to highlight the need for sprinklers in hotels such as this. With hotels posing different risks and challenges, many people are surprised sprinklers are not the norm in such buildings.”

Vulnerabilities demonstrated

The vulnerability of hotels to fire has been demonstrated not just at the Cameron House Hotel, but also at a wide range of hospitality venues including heritage conversions and modern hotels. For instance, back in July 2020, fire broke out in the early hours of the morning at the 100-bed Moorfield Hotel in Brae on the Shetland Islands. While staff and guests were evacuated safely, the Fire and Rescue Service crews from Shetland, who were assisted by industrial fire teams from the nearby Sollum Voe Oil Terminal, were unable to save the building, which was quickly engulfed by flames.

Consider the fact that this was a modern hotel building that had been standing for just seven years and one that was completely lost in the fire event. The fire is reported to have started around a linen cupboard and then subsequently spread into other areas of the structure.

Disruption in the community

Another fire that made headlines occurred at the Premier Inn in Bristol in 2019. Despite the efforts of 60 firefighters who fought the blaze, the sprinkler-bereft hotel was largely destroyed. The event disrupted local roads and businesses and stretched resources in the community.

The rebuilt hotel was completed in 2021 and now enjoys a BREEAM rating of ‘Very good’ thanks to achieving more than a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions over and above the standards set in prior Building Regulations.

There’s no mention of the environmental cost, though, or how the CO2 emissions balance the impact of the previous devastating fire event. Sadly, automatic sprinklers were not installed in the rebuilt hotel to aid with resilience to fire.

In the same year, fire completely destroyed a Holiday Inn on the Wolverhampton Road West in Willenhall near Walsall and the Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne. The West Midlands Fire Service confirmed the Holiday Inn did not have any sprinklers fitted, despite calls for their installation.

Prior to the blaze, the Fire and Rescue Service had recommended the fitting of fire sprinklers in the building, but they were never installed. The hotel was subsequently demolished and has yet to be rebuilt.

Sadly, the same outcome befell the Victorian Grade II-listed Claremont Hotel, which had to be demolished due to safety fears. This structure is also awaiting a rebuild nearly four years after the fire.

Guidance is silent

Building Regulations and guidance are silent on the provision of sprinklers in these hotels irrespective of the height of the structure involved. If they had been included, sprinkler systems would most likely have contained these fires as they would have activated automatically.

Evidence shows that, while sprinklers are primarily intended to contain or control fires, they can also be instrumental in saving people’s lives as well.

*Further information on the Business Sprinkler Alliance is available online at www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org