FIRE chiefs in Greater Manchester yesterday called unanimously upon the Government to reconsider a decision which affects future fire safety in local schools.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service added an item of urgent business to the agenda of the Fire Authority committee meeting held yesterday morning following a change in national guidance to the building regulations on sprinkler systems in new schools. The change means sprinklers systems are no longer a requirement in any new school.
Members of the Fire Authority, which includes representatives from every borough in Greater Manchester, held an emotive debate around how the change affects future fire safety and agreed as a group to lobby the Government to change the guidance back.
Councillor David Acton, Chairman of the Fire Authority and a ward councillor in Trafford, told members, who represent every borough in Greater Manchester, he thought the move was a retrograde step that was dangerous and compromised both safety and the education of local people across the county.
Councillor Acton added: “I cannot understand this decision to change the guidance to the building regulations and my feeling is that it should not go unchallenged by us. As a group we should be lobbying for all new buildings – not least schools – to be forced to include sprinklers.
“It is not simply a matter of public safety – albeit there is an enormous amount of research and evidence which details quite clearly how effective sprinkler systems can be. In schools, though, this effect is amplified as fires cause devastating damage which then impacts on longer term educational provision.
“In Greater Manchester we have championed and advocated the installation of sprinklers in domestic properties – so the idea that they are not required as a matter of course in places like schools is very much a retrograde step in my opinion.
“It is true that we made very strong representation when this change was being considered – putting forward our view and possible implications for fire safety. As a leading fire and rescue service I am disappointed we were ignored but I feel very strongly that we should continue to make representation to the Government on this.”
Councillor John Bell, who represents Tameside on the Fire Authority, joined the debate. He added: “There have been fires, quite recently, which have obliterated schools. This simply would not have been the case if there had been sprinklers. A fire is tragic for schools. It causes mayhem and destroys valuable records which affect the future of young people. When will Government get the message on this. Sprinklers are not overly expensive but you cannot put a price on fire safety of young people or our school buildings.”
A paper entitled Fire Safety in Schools, explained the changes to the committee, detailing a bulletin from the Department of Education.
The guidance no longer requires the installation of fire suppression systems (sprinklers) to be fitted into new schools. In 2015, there were 600 fires in schools each causing an estimated £1.5million of damage, according to insurers.
Members of the Fire Authority agreed to the recommendation to call on the Government to reconsider its position and reintroduce the guidance to install sprinklers in all new schools.