Fire Protecting Community Critical Buildings

By Graham Ellicott, CEO Fire Industry Association

Fire Industry Association

Earlier this year a local news story caught my attention; three schools in Farnborough had arson attacks in less than a fortnight. The schools involved were Robert Tinsdale School, Belle View Primary and North Farnborough Infant School. The latter’s buildings suffered £30,000 of damage following the arson attack on one of its outhouses which was situated just metres from a gas tank!

Local Rushmoor Fire Station manager Ben Smith said: “These deliberate fires cause considerable disruption, cost huge amounts of money and put lives at risks.”

Apart from the financial considerations from arson attacks on schools due to building loss, there is the possible loss of coursework, teachers’ aids and records, as well as the psychological impact on pupils, particularly young children, and staff.  In addition, schools are often the focal point of the community, hosting the meetings of the local Senior Citizens and the Mums and Toddlers Group.

Unfortunately after a serious fire some schools may not be rebuilt and this was nearly the case after a previous arson attack in Farnborough at Pinewood Infant School. Hampshire County Council decided not to rebuild and only a determined fight by the local community which went all the way to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator overturned their decision.

Between 40 and 50 fires in schools are termed serious fires, involving insured building losses in excess of £50,000, with some 20 of these involving losses of more than £250,000.Fire alarm point

However, it’s not just schools that are experiencing large loss fires – these are on the increase in general. This is very bad news for UK PLC as 80% of businesses that have suffered a serious fire don’t reopen and jobs are lost, which impacts directly on the wider community. Currently insurers are paying out approximately £4M per day for fire losses and that’s of course where buildings and assets are insured so the real fire loss figure is undoubtedly higher.

The most recent fire statistics report that there were 328,000 fires in the UK in a year – that’s nearly 900 per day and worse still, currently over 300 people per year die in fires in England.

The rationale of the Building Regulations in the UK is that, ‘in an emergency the occupants of any part of a building should be able to escape safely without any external assistance’ (Approved Document B to the Building Regulations).

However, in many cases the designer(s) of buildings/structures or the owner of an existing building may want to go further and increase the level of fire protection installed in the building so as to give the fire services more time to extinguish any fire that might occur. This could lead to a reduction in the amount of damage caused and thus, in the consequent insurance claim. This addition will provide extra comfort to insurers and also the Firefighters, who may have to enter a fire-ravaged building after the occupants have escaped.

In summary, the FIA believes that designers and building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community, such as public buildings including schools, hospitals and community centres. The value to the country of keeping these buildings operational far outweighs the small additional cost of an extra level of fire protection. Extra fire protection is not just a ‘nice to have’ exercise, it could mean the difference between a community critical building surviving or not in the event of a fire.

The FIA is a not-for-profit trade association which promotes professional standards in the UK fire safety industry. The Association has a produced a Best Practice Guide to help the Responsible Person get to grips with their fire safety duties in commercial premises. It is free to download on

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