South West London school fires mostly in buildings without sprinklers

Most south west London school fires in buildings without sprinklers

South west London’s schools had close to 100 fires in the past four years, but almost all were at school buildings without sprinklers.

London Fire Brigade data revealed there were 93 fires at south west London’s schools since 2017, accounting for a quarter of all London school fires, and just two were at schools with sprinklers.

Research by the National Fire Chiefs Council showed sprinklers controlled or extinguished 99% of close to 1,000 fires over the past five years.

Paul Jennings, London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, said: “Schools are at the heart of a community and the effects of fire are far-reaching.

“Sprinklers are not a luxury – they are the only system which detects fire, raises the alarm and suppresses fire – they save lives and reduce risk to firefighters.”

Mariluz de Freitas, 54, has a son at secondary school in Wimbledon. 

She said she would be appalled if her son’s school had a fire and had not installed sprinklers.

She said: “I would feel really, really bad they have no bother with safety.”

DATA: Fires at south west London schools since 2017 by year

Westminster had the highest number of school fires in south west London, with 18, followed by Lambeth and Croydon, at 15 and 14.

The two fires at schools with sprinklers both occurred in Richmond.

The only South West London borough with no school fires was Wimbledon.

SPREAD OUT: Fires at south west London schools since 2017 by borough

Zurich Municipal, the leading insurer for UK schools, launched a petition last week for mandatory sprinklers in English schools.

Zurich said repairs for larger fires in schools cost an average of £2.8 million, which can rise to more than £20 million in some cases.

Sprinklers are compulsory in new and majorly refurbished schools in Scotland and Wales.

Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s head of education, said: “Unless ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, large fires will continue to blight schools.  

“This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.  

“It costs far more to repair fire-ravaged schools than it does to install sprinklers. 

“Cash strapped schools cannot be expected to pick up the bill.”

Zurich said to improve schools’ fire safety the government should ring-fence some of the £1bn for school rebuilding and repairs Boris Johnson promised this year.

While Zurich Municipal is a subsidiary of multi-billion pound Zurich Insurance Group, it said paying to build or refurbish schools is the government’s responsibility.

It said it incentivises using sprinklers with lower premiums but was unable to pay for their installation as a private company. 

GRAPHIC: Fires at south west London schools since 2017 by year and borough

The Department for Education (DfE) said it expected to launch a full public consultation on its fire safety design guidance for new schools shortly.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The safety of pupils and staff in schools remains our highest priority and all schools are required to have an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment and conduct regular fire drills. 

“All new school buildings must be signed-off by an inspector to certify they meet the requirements of building regulations, and where sprinklers are considered necessary they must be installed.”

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