NFCC urges stronger regulations for sprinklers and AWSS in England


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NFCC advocates for enhanced sprinkler regulations

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has called on the Government to introduce stricter regulations mandating sprinklers and other automatic water suppression systems (AWSS) in England.

The NFCC’s position statement, published on 14 May 2024, urges the installation of sprinklers in all new care homes, schools, and student accommodation, regardless of building height.

According to the position paper, existing schools, student accommodations, and care homes undergoing refurbishment should also be retrofitted with sprinklers.

Additionally, the NFCC recommends that the Government mandate the retrofitting of sprinklers in all existing residential buildings over 11 metres, based on a risk assessment.

As reported by the NFCC, current regulations in England lag behind those in Scotland and Wales, which have more comprehensive requirements for sprinkler installations.

Current regulations and recent incidents

In England, the NFCC has consistently advocated for the retrofitting of sprinklers in high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres or at least seven storeys, particularly those with a single staircase.

Scotland requires sprinklers in all blocks of flats, care homes, social housing, and schools, while Wales mandates them in all new single dwellings, care homes, student halls, boarding houses, and specific hostels.

Recent high-profile fires, such as the Beechmere Extra Care Village (2019) and Newgrange Care Home (2017), have highlighted the risks faced by care home residents during evacuations.

Current evacuation strategies rely heavily on staff being able to evacuate residents before smoke compromises escape routes, which can significantly endanger both staff and residents if unsuccessful.

NFCC’s focus on schools and care homes

The NFCC’s position statement also emphasizes the importance of mandatory sprinklers in schools.

In Scotland and Wales, sprinklers are compulsory in all schools, regardless of height.

Jonathan Dyson, NFCC Lead for Sprinklers and AWSS, said: “Sprinklers have been used for over a century and are consistently reliable at saving lives and reducing injuries.

“Analysis shows they’re 99% effective in extinguishing or controlling a fire.”

Dyson added: “NFCC welcomed the lower height threshold for sprinkler installation in new residential buildings to 11 metres, but we remain concerned that there’s still no requirement to retrofit existing residential buildings with sprinklers.

“We’ve consistently urged the Government to make it a requirement to retrofit all existing residential buildings over 11 metres on a risk-assessed basis.”

The impact on communities and vulnerable populations

Mark Hardingham, NFCC Chair, highlighted the broader community impact of school fires: “Thankfully, deaths and injuries in school fires are rare.

“However, it’s important that we protect schools as they are vital community assets.

“School fires can be devastating, and the use of sprinklers is proven to not only minimise the disruption to a pupil’s education but also the impact on their family and the community.”

Hardingham also addressed concerns about fire safety in care homes: “We also have serious concerns about fire safety in care homes.

“Sprinklers are critical to protecting vulnerable residents as well as employees.

“Installing sprinklers in care homes would reduce the likelihood of a fire spreading beyond the room in which it originated.”

He added: “We welcomed the Government’s proposal requiring sprinklers be installed in all new care homes regardless of height.

“However, it must go further to include existing care homes undergoing refurbishment.”

IFSJ Comment

The NFCC’s call for more robust sprinkler regulations underscores a critical need for enhanced fire safety measures across various types of buildings in England.

The proposed changes aim to align England’s regulations with those already in place in Scotland and Wales, ensuring a higher level of protection for residents, students, and vulnerable populations.

The position statement points to significant gaps in the current regulations, particularly regarding existing buildings.

Retrofitting sprinklers in older buildings, especially those over 11 metres, would address a major safety concern.

The effectiveness of sprinklers, highlighted by NFCC leaders, shows a proven track record of not only controlling fires but also saving lives and reducing injuries.

Furthermore, the focus on schools and care homes reflects the NFCC’s commitment to protecting some of the most vulnerable members of society.

School fires can disrupt communities significantly, while care home fires pose a direct threat to residents who may have limited mobility.

The NFCC’s recommendations aim to mitigate these risks and ensure safer living and learning environments.

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