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Make sprinkler systems compulsory in schools, fire chiefs urge

National Fire Chiefs Council says all new and refurbished schools in England should have sprinkler systems

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National Fire Chiefs Council says all new and refurbished schools in England should have sprinkler systems

All new and refurbished schools in England should be fitted with sprinklers, fire chiefs have said.

The call came as the London Fire Brigade Commissioner accused the government of "playing with children's lives" by drawing up plans – now ditched – to weaken fire safety requirements in schools.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said all new and refurbished schools in England should be fitted with sprinkler systems, which are already mandatory in new schools in Scotland and Wales. 

LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton, who led the emergency response to the Grenfell Tower fire, said it was "outrageous" that the Department for Education had consulted on proposals to weaken the expectation of installing the systems in new-build schools.

Last year, the DfE began a consultation on new draft guidance that said building regulations no longer required "the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety...[and] no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them".

The draft guidance was dropped after the Grenfell tragedy, in which at least 80 people died.

Sprinkler requirements

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Cotton said that when she saw the draft guidance she thought it was "outrageous".

"I thought 'How can we play with children's lives like that?'

"I just do not understand why it wouldn't be made compulsory and wouldn't be made a requirement to fit sprinklers in schools at new-build stage.

"And what I don't want to see is a very large school fire to be the thing that brings about that change."

Less than a third of the 260 schools built since 2014 as part of the Schools Building Programme have sprinklers, the NFCC said.

The LFB said it recommended 184 new or refurbished schools should install sprinklers last year, but that only four followed its advice.

More than 1,300 schools in the UK suffer fires large enough to be attended by local authority fire and rescue services each year.

David Amess MP, the Conservative chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety, told BBC Breakfast: "It's crazy that new school buildings go ahead without it being mandatory for them to have sprinklers".

"You can't put any price on the life of a child," he added.

The DfE said it has always been the case that sprinklers should be installed when recommended by a risk assessment.

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