While schools sit empty during the summer months, what can be done to reduce their fire risk?

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The summer months have arrived, and many parents and school children are enjoying to the break, and hopefully, good weather and barbecues.

But while schools sit empty during the summer months, they are vulnerable to being destroyed or severely damaged by fire. The impact on the community, the school, pupils and teachers can be significant, with schoolwork destroyed and the future of young people severely affected.

Rebuilding and repair often take many months, with young people either dispersed to surrounding schools or housed in temporary classrooms. The effect of this upheaval on the wellbeing and education of young people is immense, with those requiring additional support particularly affected.

Statistics on School Fires

Zurich Insurance recently released some interesting claims data about school fires.

School fires rise by 40% in August, and one in five school fires are started deliberately. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of school fires in August was 44% higher compared to the average across that period.

Home office data covering fire authorities in England reveals that one in five school fires are started deliberately. Analysis of this data shows that fires are often formed in external fittings, bathrooms or toilets, meeting rooms or offices, storerooms, refuse stores and roof space.

The same study by Zurich Insurance revealed that the average cost of a fire in August was £8.1 million compared to the average £1.5 million, which is around five times higher.

With all this risk, what can school administrators, government officials and facilities managers do to combat school fires during the summer months?

Maintenance

School breaks are often used for maintenance and repair. During these periods, external contractors may be on site. Facilities managers must guide them to maintain security to prevent unauthorised access. They must follow strict housekeeping rules regarding the removal and control of waste with the site cleared and refuse removed at the end of the working day.

Fire Suppression Systems During holiday periods, schools are unoccupied for long periods; this means that a fire once started within the building will develop unnoticed for an extended period. The alarm is only being raised when smoke escapes or the flames breach a window or the roof. If the school is poorly protected with no automatic fire detection or sprinkler system, the fire will grow unabated until the fire and rescue service arrive at the scene.

The installation of automatic fire detection and protection systems, such as sprinklers, will go a long way to protect school infrastructure and the future of our young people’s education.

Prevention of Arson

Deterring someone who has set out with the intent to cause a fire can be difficult but not impossible. It is easier to prevent those who are mischievous and bored. By taking reasonable steps, you can make it harder for the arsonist. A working automatic alarm and sprinkler system will help reduce any damage and disruption caused if a fire is started.

  1. all external doors are locked and well maintained
  2. all windows are secure, with those at ground level protected by grills and difficult to access from the outside.
  3. make it harder for anyone to climb onto low-level roofs or outbuildings
  4. identify areas that may be hidden from view and ensure they are illuminated
  5. general external lighting to be well maintained and in working order
  6. ensure outside areas are cleared of refuse and refuse bins secured away from the main building
  7. consider the installation of CCTV
  8. external fences and barriers to be maintained in good condition with unauthorised access points repaired.
  9. Access gates kept locked and secured
  10. internal doors are closed and secured
  11. fire doors properly installed and well maintained

Next Steps

If the unthinkable does happen, it is essential to identify the origin and cause to identify those responsible. A thorough investigation can also inform what measures need to be taken to prevent the reoccurrence of fire. At Jensen Hughes, we have the skills and expert knowledge to support you, whether in matters of fire engineering and fire protection or the forensics investigation of origin and cause.

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