Significant School Fires Spell Disruption Ahead Of Term

The blaze in Hartlepool, which occurred on August 12th, which is now thought to have been deliberately started, resulted in fire damage and complete smoke damage to the nursery area. The rest of the school experienced lighter smoke damage. Fire crews from Billingham and Hartlepool responded swiftly, yet the consequences have left a lasting impact. The nursery, responsible for nurturing and educating 30 children aged between two and four, will now require extensive reconstruction.

The blaze in Bolton, which occurred on August 17th, caused an even larger scale of damage to the very heart of the SS Simon and Jude CE Primary School. Around 80 firefighters and 17 fire engines across Greater Manchester fought to contain the fire which has damaged an area of 1,600 sqm containing the main teaching spaces, central hall and kitchens. The school has over 600 pupils.

As the summer holiday draws to a close, the imminent return of students will necessitate temporary arrangements or alternative spaces for classrooms undergoing reconstruction. The ripple effects of such incidents are far-reaching, with fires causing significant disruption even if they do not engulf entire school premises. This was clearly signalled by the councillor responsible for children’s services in Bolton signalling that “our priority as an authority now is to ensure that there is continuity of education provision come the start of the new school year and that there is no disruption.” Given the short period of time available this will mean that students will have to navigate the challenges of remediation efforts and prolonged disruption that could span several months.

Contrary to common assumptions, schools are not always adequately equipped to withstand the range of risks they might face over their lifetimes, be it fire, flood, theft, or other unforeseen events. A study conducted in 2020 by Zurich Municipal1 revealed alarming statistics – over the past five years, schools in England encountered a staggering 2,300 fires. The study projects potential disruption to education, estimating that as many as 390,000 teaching hours could be lost within a year due to significant fires, affecting 28,000 students. The monetary ramifications are equally dire, with the average repair bill for substantial fire incidents hovering around £2.9 million, while certain catastrophic fires can rack up costs of up to £20 million.

There are systems that can minimise the impact of fire with proactive measures such as automatic sprinklers. While these systems are hailed for their effectiveness in containing fires, promoting safety, and minimising damage, their implementation remains inconsistent across the UK’s educational landscape. Surprisingly, although mandatory in new Scottish school buildings and financially encouraged in Wales, these systems have yet to attain universal implementation in the rest of the UK. The installation of sprinklers could potentially curtail fire outbreaks and significantly reduce the resultant damage, leading to minimal disruption to education.

The recent fires in Hartlepool and Bolton cast a glaring spotlight on the imperative need for heightened fire safety protocols within school premises. The question that emerges is a pressing one – how many more incidents of this nature, each exacerbating disruption to children’s education, need to occur before the installation of sprinklers becomes an essential prerequisite in school design? The repercussions of missed school days extend beyond academics, affecting children’s overall life prospects. It is high time that collective action is taken to safeguard our educational institutions against the devastating impact of fires, ensuring that the pursuit of knowledge remains unhampered by preventable incidents.



For further information, please contact Sian Fulton at Fabrick on:

Telephone: 01622 754295

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