LONDON FIRE Brigade (LFB) found that only one percent of care homes, retirement homes and hostels that experience fires have sprinklers fitted.

The new figures released by LFB showed that there is, on average, more than one fire every day in such buildings housing ‘some of the capital’s most vulnerable residents’, with the service aiming to use Sprinkler Awareness Week to call for automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS) to be installed in care homes in addition to high rises and schools.

Of 428 fires in hostels, care homes, retirement homes and sheltered housing last year, sprinklers were installed in ‘just five’ of the incidents, with three of these fires seeing fatalities and 53 people injured in total. So far in 2018, there have already been 69 fires in such buildings, with LFB taking the opportunity to refresh a position statement on AFSS ‘to set out as clearly and concisely as possible where we recommend and would like to see sprinklers’.

This also comes with ‘recent levels of public interest and debate on sprinklers’, with LFB noting its belief that AFSS plays a ‘significant role in reducing the impact of fire on people, property and the environment, as part of an appropriate package of fire safety measures’. Such systems can also assist firefighters carrying out search and rescue operations by ‘limiting fire development’, which ‘significantly reduces the risk to firefighters’.

Across the three areas of care homes, high rise residential buildings and schools, LFB is calling for all new residential developments over 18m to be fitted with sprinklers, while existing blocks over that height should be retrofitted. In turn, sprinklers should be ‘mandatory’ in all new school builds and major refurbishments, while all new care homes and sheltered accommodation should see them fitted, and all existing such sites should have them retrofitted.

It also ‘strongly advocates’ sprinklers in ‘all homes occupied by the most vulnerable in our communities’, all other residential properties including ‘hotels, hostels and student accommodation, over 18m in height’, and all new LFB buildings. The service also aims to ‘continue to promote the installation’ of sprinklers in heritage buildings, basements and large warehouses in London.

Dan Daly, assistant commissioner for fire safety at LFB, stated: ‘It’s a tragic fact that many of the fires  we see involve vulnerable people who have mobility and/or health issues that mean they are unable to escape even small fires and they may suffer fatal or life-changing injuries before the fire brigade is even called. We need to ensure sufficient and appropriate protection measures are in place to safeguard these people where they live and suppression systems should be part of those considerations.

‘Small fires can kill and soon develop into large fires unless they are stopped. Automatic fire suppression systems such as sprinklers can stop those small fires developing into tragedy. Sprinklers are the only system which detects a fire, suppresses a fire and raises the alarm. If you are housing vulnerable people, you have a responsibility for their welfare and that means ensuring what fire suppression measures you need to have in place.

‘There has long been a myth that sprinkler systems are very expensive, and of course, costs vary depending on the type of system, but for example in schools if they are incorporated from the design stage, sprinklers are around 1% of the total build cost. There are also self-contained watermist systems which are designed to provide protection to vulnerable individuals who may be at increased risk of fire and have mobility issues which affect their ability to escape.

‘These Personal Protection Systems can be installed in one room of a property where a vulnerable person spends most of their time.’

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