This article is taken from the January edition of The Teacher- you can read it in its original format online here.
Fires in schools are more common than you’d think. Sarah Lyons- NUT Principal Officer for Employment Conditions and Rights- alerts you to steps you can take to minimise the risk.
You may believe school fires are rare and your school won’t ever be affected, but school fires are more common than you think – there are over 2,000 every year and about 60 per cent of them are arson attacks.
Greg Jones, NUT health and safety adviser for Leicestershire, experienced a school fire last year. “In April 2013, fire broke out in a Leicestershire academy during a lunch break when a student set fire to the toilet roll in a cubicle in the design block toilets. The school had to be fully evacuated, despite the fact that GCSE design exams were taking place.” The smoke meant the design block had to be closed and the exams postponed.
Another NUT H&S adviser, Andy Haynes from Leicester city, describes a more serious fire in October 2012. “It was started by builders repairing the roof. Even when the fire was extinguished, staff were unable to reclaim their belongings, including car and house keys, resulting in considerable inconvenience.” Eight school days were lost before the school was relocated to four other schools. Pupils had to be bussed to these sites.
Portable classrooms were erected on the fields of another school, but there are problems with lighting, ventilation and noise as the walls and floors are thin. The school will be rebuilt by this Easter, but the cost is £1.2 million more than the insurance company will pay out.
What are the other costs of a school fire?
There’s disruption to children’s education for months, with the loss of facilities, equipment, teaching aids and resources, pupils’ work (including coursework which has to be redone) and personal items. Staff morale suffers and stress is high, particularly for staff teaching in unfamiliar/unsuitable rooms, and for senior managers coping with new challenges.
What can be done to reduce the risk of fire?
There is a legal duty to undertake fire risk assessments. This is a methodical look at the premises, the activities taking place and the likelihood of a fire breaking out.
Apart from basic precautions, such as planning escape routes, fitting smoke alarms and undertaking regular drills, schools can minimise the amount of combustible material left in and around buildings, and ensure the building is secure, with adequate locks on doors and windows.
When fires do break out, their impact can be reduced in terms of risk to life and property where a sprinkler system is fitted. Sprinklers will detect, extinguish or control a fire, raise the alarm, protect life and property and do so 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Accidental activation is extremely rare.
Back in 2007 Jim Knight, the then Education Minister, announced that all new schools would have sprinklers fitted. Sadly this has not happened, but the NUT will continue to support the fitting of sprinklers in schools.
Want to know more?
NUT guidance on fire safety is available from the Union website here. Information about sprinklers can be found at the National Fire Sprinkler Network website