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Sussex firefighters call for sprinkler law to change
This week saw the launch of a new sprinkler awareness week and fire chiefs in Sussex are looking to make big changes that will save lives.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is leading the way and the fire authority is calling for changes in regulation that will enshrine the use of sprinklers in law.
Phil Howson, chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said: “East Sussex Fire Authority is calling on the Government to make it a legal requirement to enforce the use of sprinklers in new buildings and large-scale properties and to fit sprinkler systems in premises where risk to life and loss of property are most significant.
“Sprinklers can significantly help reduce death and injury from fire, reduce risk for firefighters, protect property and heritage and reduce the effects of arson. The greatest impact of installing fire sprinklers is likely to occur in schools, residential care homes, premises housing highly vulnerable residents and certain large commercial properties.
“Greater uptake of fire sprinklers would increase the UK's resilience and help ensure a continued economic recovery without the risk of unnecessary fires.
In some parts of the UK, the usage of sprinkler systems has already been ratified as mandatory by law.”
From April 2012 to March 2013 there were 1041 house fires in Sussex with nine fatalities, 484 attended by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and 557 attended by East Sussex Fire and Rescue.
These tragic deaths in Sussex included a 90-year-old former Bletchley Park code breaker, a 30-year-old father of two and an 89-year-old woman.
Two girls in Hove had a lucky escape when a sprinkler deployed in their flat, saving their lives.
And for the fire services it is instances like this that prove the importance of sprinklers.
Bolstering East Sussex Fire Authority's campaign, Councillor Carolyn Lambert has successfully petitioned Lewes District Council to install new sprinklers in all administrative council buildings.
The council has also agreed to consider installing domestic sprinkler systems in refurbished homes owned by the district council, and also where the residents have limited mobility.
Coun Lambert said: “I am delighted that the council has agreed to support this important proposal. As a member of the East Sussex Fire Authority, I am very aware of the importance of fire prevention work.
“There have unfortunately been eight fatal fires in the Lewes District in the last 10 years, and in the majority of these cases, domestic sprinkler systems could have made a difference to the tragic outcome.”
Lewes District Council will also lead the lobby to encourage councils to actively promote the use of sprinkler systems, even though the devices are not required by law.
Head of Business Safety at the East Sussex Fire Authority, Richard Fowler, said: "This is tremendous news and shows a real commitment from Lewes District Council towards reducing the dreadful consequences of fire. Having sprinklers is just like having a firefighter in every room.”
The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) has launched Sprinkler Week as a nationwide initiative dedicated to raising awareness and understanding about preventing and controlling fires - as well as dispelling common myths about sprinkler systems.
Mr Fowler said: “Controlling a fire as it starts is much better than repairing the damage after it has spread.
“We actively promote the use of fire sprinklers. We see so much damage and destruction following a fire that is preventable. There are many misconceptions about sprinkler systems being expensive to install but the cost of sprinklers is a small fraction of the overall build cost and of the likely costs associated with a fire.
“Installing sprinklers is particularly easy if you are building a new property or undertaking conversion work, but it is still entirely possible to retrospectively fit sprinkler systems into existing properties.”
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service reports that in the last 2 years there has never been the case of a sprinkler system failing to operate when it should.
Where a sprinkler system has operated, it has controlled or extinguished the fire as designed in all cases.
Currently there is no mandatory requirement in the Brighton and Hove City Council building regulations to install sprinklers in new or existing buildings. However, the building control department supports the use of sprinklers to mitigate risks that new and existing buildings may present from time to time.
Sprinkler systems respond to heat and once they are activated they rain water directly onto the fire in an effort to stop it as it starts - something invaluable when residents are sleeping or businesses are empty.
The system then dials out to the fire service, alerting them of the danger so that a fire crew may respond.
Nationwide, fire and rescue services attended 154,000 fires across the UK - with 3830 non-fatal causalities and 271 fatalities between April 2012 and March 2013.
One of the biggest aims of the Sprinkler Week campaign is to show that sprinklers are safe, reliable, and accessible to everyone and are well worth the initial cost.
Advocates from CFOA say that in buildings where sprinkler systems have been installed, fire deaths have almost been eliminated and injuries and property damage have been reduced by 80%.
The sprinklers have also have been benefitial for firefighters, making their jobs safer and meaning that the crews use significantly less water to deal with the flames.
In a 1997 report from the Rural/Metro Fire Department, Scottsdale, in Arizona it was estimated that the average amount of water used by a sprinkler was 209 gallons, compared to 3,290 gallons that would be used by visiting fire crews.
With the average cost of a fire in a domestic property being estimated at £44,523, and commercial fires estimated to cost the UK's economy more than £2bn every year, sprinkler advocates say that the expense is well worth it.
The Local Government Authority (LGA) estimates that in order to put a full sprinkler system in a 3-4 bed house it would cost £3000-£3500 - the equivalent of 1-2 per cent of the build cost. A sprinkler system in a 125-150 pupil primary school would cost £105,000 - equivalent to £10-15 per square metre. While a system in a high rise block of flats is estimated to cost around 1.5 - 1.9 per cent of the build cost - equivalent of £18-25 per square metre In 2011, Wales became the first country in the world were the installation of sprinklers is compulsory in all new homes after a unanimous motion in the Welsh Assembly. This regulation covers all new houses, flats, care homes and halls of residence.
Scotland also requires all new schools, care homes, sheltered housing and high rises to include adequate sprinkler coverage.
In a sprinkler effectiveness study carried out by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, it was shown that in 88% of fires where a system was present the sprinklers alone managed to either extinguish or control the fire.
Annual maintenance costs of domestic fire suppression systems are £75-£150 per year.
For further information on Sprinkler Week in Sussex visit http://www.esfrs.org/communitySafety/advice/sprinklers.shtml Case Study SHAY Louise Stringer and Cherise Veakins had a lucky escape from a fire when the sprinkler system started at their home in Brunswick Place, Hove.
The two had returned late and decided to cook some food - chicken nuggets under the grill and chips in a chip pan on the hob - but both fell asleep and the kitchen burst into flames.
Ms Veakins, 19, said the sprinklers started automatically: “The next thing I remember is being woken up by the fire alarm. The kitchen was alight and I couldn't wake Shay. There was someone knocking on the door. When I opened the door there was a bang behind me and all the lights went out”.
The fire alarm was sounded, but Ms Stringer was unresponsive.
Ms Stringer, 23, said “When we got home I took my medication and fell asleep. I don't remember any more until I woke up in hospital the next day.”
A neighbour, 48, entered the property, fighting through the smoke to find Ms Stringer, eventually wrapping her in a duvet and dragging her from the premises.
The single kitchen sprinkler had engaged and managed to isolate the fire without any additional water needed to be deployed by the attending fire crews.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue's Head of Business Safety, Richard Fowler said: “The fire size was kept small by the sprinkler and the amount of smoke was therefore minimal - it would not otherwise have been possible to survive in the flat.”
“In the end, no serious injuries occurred and the girls were able to re-occupy the flat just a few weeks later. They still live there now”
The fire crews cleared out water deposited by the sprinkler and no other sprinkler systems in the building engaged.
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