School fires are a serious issue that needs to be addressed by all educational institutions for the safety of their students, teachers, and property.
Although they have drastically decreased over the years thanks to better fire prevention and safety, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
According to data collected in December 2020, there were a total of 480 primary and secondary school fires in the UK in the previous year, with the Fire and Rescue services responding to around 2000 school fires in the last three years. That is an alarming statistic and a serious cause for concern.
Fires don’t just affect the schools financially in terms of damages but also have a serious lasting impact on the students and teachers, especially if they are present on campus when it breaks out and may endanger their lives and wellbeing.
In serious cases where the damages are too much, the students may be temporarily relocated to other schools until the repairs are done.
Such experiences have a lasting impact on people, especially children who may not be able to focus on their studies due to the traumatic experience.
Fires may also damage or completely burn important documents and records vital for the school’s day-to-day operations. (Pro tip: invest in fire-resistant safes to keep them safe.)
If the school does not have adequate safety measures in place and a fire erupts on campus causing injuries or loss of life, the individuals affected could file a lawsuit against them landing the school in some serious legal trouble.
Read on to find out what causes school fires and the best fire safety measures to prevent them:
CAUSES OF SCHOOL FIRES
Schools fall into the high fire risk category and are 1.7 times more likely to catch fires as compared to other commercial buildings in the UK.
Some of the most common places that fires start in schools include the classrooms, cloakrooms/toilets, storerooms, kitchen/canteens, and the boiler/plant rooms. Other areas include the main halls and places of assembly, offices, sports halls, and laboratories.
Fires may either be caused intentionally or by accident, with arson being one of the leading causes of school fires that involves setting fire to buildings, vehicles, and other property.
It may be the result of:
- Delinquency – where older adolescents start fires on purpose mostly for fun and with the special intent to cause harm and destruction.
- Pathological behaviour – where individuals with mental disorders and low social skills do so for attention and as a coping mechanism.
- Terrorism – where the school may be targeted for crimes of violence by terrorists or criminal organisations.
Some of the top accidental causes of school fires include malfunctioning appliances and equipment, faulty electrical installations, heating equipment, cooking equipment, and playing with heat sources.
FIRE SAFETY IN SCHOOLS
The school management has a responsibility towards all the stakeholders and must do all that they can to ensure the safety of everyone inside the school premises.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), all primary and secondary schools are required to have an effective fire prevention and safety policy on campus for the safety of their pupils and staff members.
There are a few steps that must be taken to ensure that all the right safety measures have been taken to combat the threat of fires. They include:
Appointing a “responsible person” for fire safety
As part of the fire safety legislation for all commercial properties, the school management must appoint a responsible person, otherwise known as a fire safety officer, to make sure that the fire safety policies are in place and being followed.
Usually, the fire safety officers are headteachers, security managers, or anyone who has control over the school and the areas inside it.
They are responsible for carrying out fire risk assessments and appointing and training fire wardens who ultimately share responsibility and help the fire safety officers execute the school’s fire safety strategy.
Carrying out a school fire risk assessment
A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement for all schools since its findings help you form the basis of your fire safety strategy.
A school fire risk assessment helps identify the potential hazards on the campus and determine the people most at risk in case a fire breaks out.
It helps establish the risk level to all the occupants of the school, assess whether the existing fire safety measures are adequate, and identify any additional measures that need to be implemented to improve safety on the premises.
If your school building, or a part of it, is currently under construction, you must consider all factors and suggest features and measures to minimise the risk of and slow down the spread of fire.
Introducing fire prevention and safety measures
In order to prevent fires from erupting, you need to understand what can and may cause them and fix their root cause.
You can get a better understanding of the right fire safety measures for your school after conducting a thorough fire risk assessment.
You must invest in a good fire alarm system that helps detect the earliest signs of a fire on the school premises and alerts everyone on campus so that they can safely evacuate on time.
Other fire safety equipment includes fire extinguishers, sprinklers, fire doors, fire signage, and emergency lighting.
Testing and maintaining the fire safety equipment
It is not enough to simply install fire alarm systems on your school campus. You need to ensure that they are fit for the purpose and can be relied on for the earliest detection of an actual fire.
The efficiency of a fire alarm system isn’t just a legal requirement but could also be a matter of life and death, which is why it is very important to take the appropriate safety measures that include installing and maintaining state-of-the-art fire detection systems.
Two types of inspections must be carried out: inspections carried out by the users of the system which fall under the responsibility of the responsible person(s), and inspections and maintenance checks carried out by a competent person, who is usually a trained engineer.
The user tests are carried out on a weekly and monthly basis, whereas the more detailed inspections carried out by the trained engineers are done a minimum of two times each year.
Reviewing fire drill procedures and evacuation plans
When a fire breaks out, it is usually followed by chaos and confusion among the people since they do not know what to do.
To avoid that from happening, you must ensure that the students, teachers, and staff members are all properly trained and made aware of the standard procedures to follow in the event of a fire.
This can be done by having regular fire drills that must be carried out at least once every term, and practising safe evacuation from the building so that it can be done calmly and efficiently in case of a real emergency.
FIRE ALARM SYSTEMS IN SCHOOLS
Fire alarm systems are made up of various components that include sensors and detectors, notification devices such as bells, sirens, and lights, and a control panel and power supplies.
The type of system and the placement of the sensors play a pivotal role in how effective they are in detecting the potential threat and alerting everyone inside the school.
Some fire alarm systems may include sprinklers to instantly extinguish the flames, two-way communication, and remote monitoring services that sends an instant alert to the fire rescue services in the event of an alarm trigger.
Fire alarms are categorised into two broad categories – property protection and life protection – as outlined by the British Standard 5839.
The objective of property protection fire alarms is to, you guessed it right, protect property and call the fire and rescue services in the early stages of a fire.
They include type P1 and P2 that have automatic sensors installed throughout the school and in designated areas respectively.
The objective of life protection fire alarms is to protect people from injuries and loss of life and are comprised of both manual call points (type M) and automatic fire detection systems.
The two main types of fire alarms for schools include conventional fire alarms and addressable fire alarms.
Conventional fire alarms can be set up in zones that, when the alarm is triggered, can help identify the location of the fire by identifying the zone on the system.
These zones are broad and do not give the exact location of the fire, making the systems ideal for smaller schools.
Addressable fire alarms identify the exact point where the fire erupted since each device on the system has an address or location. This makes them the perfect choice for large schools since they help identify the source of the fire without any delay.
CHOOSING THE BEST FIRE ALARM SYSTEM FOR YOUR SCHOOL
There is a no “one size fits all” answer for the best fire alarm system for school safety but there are ways that you can choose the best one for your particular needs.
The first step is to identify the risks so that you know what you need the system for and can better combat the issue.
When making the decision, some important factors include:
- The size of the school: this will determine whether a conventional or addressable fire alarm system would be suitable for your premises since the main difference between the two systems is that of scale.
- The level of risk: schools with a higher level of fire risk may require a more advanced system than ones with a lower level of risk.
- The features: your requirements and preferences for specific features and functions will play a huge role in choosing a fire alarm for your school.
Some important features to look for are:
- Early detection: early detection fire alarm systems are made specifically for detecting even the slightest bit of unusual activity such as smoke, heat, and other factors, and send out a signal for action to be taken ASAP.
- One-way or two-way communication: some fire alarms come equipped with one-way communication where the monitoring station can alert and send instructions to those in danger, while others offer two-way communication where the people in the building can also communicate and respond to the monitoring station staff.
- CCTV integration: by integrating CCTV cameras with school fire alarm systems, security experts monitoring the systems will not only be able to respond to the alarm triggers but also visually investigate the area through CCTV footage.
If you are unsure about the best fire alarm system for your school, you may consult with a professional security company that specialises in the field.
They will be able to quickly assess your campus and provide recommendations on the type, grade, and level of system you require.
CONTACT CALDER SECURITY
At Calder Security, we offer you a comprehensive solution for your school’s fire safety needs and guarantee the best service in all of Yorkshire and beyond. Our services include:
- Fire alarm installation
The proper installation of a fire alarm system is a complex task requiring expertise in the field and is just as important as the quality of the system itself.
We install only high-quality equipment from our trusted suppliers and all our systems comply with property insurance terms.
We can assess the school and recommend the best fire alarm system for your needs that complies with British Standards, HSE, Building Regulations, and Fire Officer Guidelines, based on the size of the school, the number of students and teachers, and the level of risk involved.
- Fire alarm maintenance
As stated above, it is not enough to simply have a fire alarm system installed on your school premises. The law states that it must be maintained properly and, depending on many factors, this can be anything up to three times per year.
We understand fire regulations and provide professional maintenance checks and reminders for when the checks are due to help you stay compliant with the law.
We work fast to restore your fire alarm system to excellent condition and always strive to meet your expectations.
- Fire alarm monitoring
Fast response to an activated fire alarm can make all the difference in minimising risk to life and property, and fire alarm monitoring does that by adding an extra layer of safety to the system.
Knowing that experts at an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) are looking out for your safety and taking the necessary steps to ensure that safety remains intact in the event of a fire is a very reassuring thought.
We offer various levels of monitoring via a 24-hour monitoring centre using Dualcom and BT Redcare signalling, which is the most secure alarm monitoring system and the largest supplier of intelligent alarm signalling services in the UK.
Fire alarm monitoring not only significantly minimise the seriousness of the situation through fast action but also helps reduce your insurance premiums.
- Fire alarm repair
As per the law, if a fire alarm system becomes faulty, it is mandatory to get it repaired quickly and professionally. The inability to do so can leave you, your students, your employees, your property, and all of its assets in a vulnerable state.
A faulty fire alarm can result in false alarms or, in a worst-case scenario, prevent it from triggering at all in the event of a fire.
Our engineers are highly skilled and can restore your system to full working order in one visit. We offer a 24-hour call-out service for customers and can also repair fire alarms not installed by us thanks to our extensive knowledge and experience.
Contact us here or call us today free on 0800 612 9799 to talk to our experts right away!