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Report available on impact of fires in school premises.

British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association : 06 November, 2007  (Technical Article)
Research findings on impact of school fires reveal sprinkler systems can reduce the high costs and levels of disruption to students.
Every year there are between 1,400 and 1,800 fires in our primary and secondary schools, and the Arson Control Forum estimates that 43 per cent of schools in England and Wales suffered a fire in the last three years.

Organisations such as fire services, local authorities and the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) have long been aware of the major long-term impact of a fire on a school and its local community. Now new research, undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research, and commissioned by the Local Government Association and BAFSA as part of its Wise up to Fire campaign highlights the extent and severity of these impacts.

The research involved in-depth interviews with school staff, pupils and their parents, and fire services from four schools in different parts of the country that had suffered fires in the last three years. It explored how they felt the immediate and longer-term disruption had affected them emotionally and in their lives and learning opportunities; and what they thought about fire prevention and control measures that could be taken in the future. It also included a review of previous research and statistics to bring these together for the first time.

The review found that, while the measurable cost of arson attacks on schools in 2001 stood at £65 million, the real cost was nearer to £115 million; that nearly a third of all school fires start in school time, and that the education of around 90,000 children is affected by fire every year, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds suffering disproportionately.

Most importantly, the report has been able to measure for the first time the previously anecdotal evidence about the direct and indirect effects on the people involved: 17 per cent of schools that had experienced a fire said it had led to a drop in staff morale; six per cent to reduced morale amongst pupils, and seven per cent had received negative publicity. There is also evidence of measurable damage to exam results, of lost school days, and irreplaceable pupil work.

The research also considered the factors that can reduce the cost of fire and specifically, at evidence relating to sprinkler systems and other preventative measures. It found that there were a number of negative perceptions around the cost, reliability and damage caused by such systems, and that these were unsupported by any facts. In reality, the cost of fitting a sprinkler system in a new school is a maximum of three per cent of total build (seven per cent if retro-fitted), and this can be recovered within five years through reduced insurance premiums. Losses in sprinklered buildings are ten per cent of those in unprotected buildings; they never give false alarms; and only one in 14 million will discharge due to any defect.

However, the research team also found that, once a school has been affected by fire and has experienced the destruction arising, it puts protection plans for the future as a top priority, and many schools would welcome more guidance and visits from the fire service.

Stewart Kidd, Secretary General of BAFSA, welcomed the findings as being very significant both in adding to our knowledge, and in alerting people to the dangers and solutions. 'The conventional view that school fires only happen during holidays is shown to be dangerously incorrect, and we must take note of the serious possibility of casualties in the future', he says. 'At last we have conclusive evidence of measurable impacts such as disruption to education, lowered exam results, poor morale, and effects on the local community as well as the school itself.'

'BAFSA is concerned to note that there are still myths about how sprinklers operate and their cost, and we will continue working with the fire service, government and insurers to dispel these. This new research should prove a very effective weapon in the fight against fire, and against the misunderstandings about fire prevention that are still prevalent.'

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