Innovative school design isn’t the enemy of fire safety

Keith MacGillivray of the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association looks at the debate around whether automatic fire sprinklers are in conflict with innovative school design


hat could be more beneficial to the design of a school than the inclusion of automatic fire sprinklers at the design stage? (This is already required in Wales, since

2014 and Scotland, since 2010.)

Why is this beneficial to the design I hear you say? Firstly, and most importantly, the sprinklers would ensure that any fire was extinguished or controlled in the early stages, and allow the escape of those in the building and secondly, prevent the fire from becoming a major loss as so many school fires in England do. The sprinklers would allow all the pupils, teachers and staff to make their escape safely and would reduce the risk to firefighters who are called to the fire.

Secondly the sprinklers would protect your design and allow it to remain for many years to come so that teachers, pupils and the public are able to enjoy the inspiring learning and community spaces. Finally, sprinklers allow architects design freedoms that would not normally be available under the current building standards. These include greater heights in larger meeting and circulation

areas, longer corridors without being broken up by doors, a greater mix of building occupancies such as community spaces and in the case referred to by the BDP architect quoted later in this piece, a police station and library.

Other recent school developments in Scotland have seen similar inclusive projects, such as Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy, which includes a school, gym, swimming pool, library, sports hall and other shared community facilities.

Recent research by Zurich Insurance analysed the fire risks posed by 26,866 primary and secondary schools in England. It found the average school posed a fire risk 1.7 times greater than non-residential buildings (with a fire risk score of 0.58 and 0.33 respectively according to Zurich’s model). When compared to 2.9 million non-household properties, schools were also three times more likely to fall into the “high” fire risk category (58 per cent vs 20 per cent), as defined by the study. The predominant causes of fires in schools are arson, smoking, electrical and cooking, yet the majority of these fires could be controlled or extinguished by a sprinkler system.


Sprinklers allow architects design freedoms that would not normally be available under the current building standards – including greater heights in larger meeting and circulation areas

It is not just the damage to the building that is critical, it is the disruption to studies, the loss of teaching and study materials, the difficulty in finding alternative suitable accommodation, and the loss of community facilities which are frequently included in school buildings.


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