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New figures released today by Zurich Municipal show that the number of large fires causing significant damage to sc...
New figures released today by Zurich Municipal show that the number of large fires causing significant damage to schools has increased by more than half (55%) over the last year. Related costs incurred as a result of school fires have increased by more than 170% over the last 10 years. Zurich estimates that 90 per cent of the fires were a result of arson attacks, and believes these large fires would not have escalated to such damaging proportions if the schools were fitted with sprinkler systems.

Zurich is now renewing its call for sprinklers to be made compulsory in all new or refurbished schools in light of the fact that the problem still needs to be addressed. Despite campaigns by Zurich, the Local Government Association and the fire service only 150 out of 28,000 schools in the UK are fitted with sprinklers. Losses from fires in buildings with sprinklers are estimated to be just one tenth of those in unprotected buildings, and fires in the limited number of schools fitted with sprinklers have resulted in minimal damage and disruption.

These figures are just the tip of the iceberg with numerous smaller fires also causing damage to many schools. In addition, uninsured costs will be incurred by local education authorities, the fire brigade and police, and cause considerable disruption and inconvenience to pupils, teachers and parents. According to recent Arson Prevention Bureau research, one third of school fires are started in the daytime, putting pupils and teachers at risk of injury or loss of life, emphasising the possible life safety aspects of fire sprinklers.

Larry Stokes, underwriting manager at Zurich and chair of the Arson Prevention Bureau's schools working group, says: 'The government has recently announced it is releasing£2bn for the Building Schools for the Future

programme. With schools being built from new or refurbished, it is the perfect opportunity to include sprinklers in the design. Two cases in Greater Manchester illustrate the point. One school that didn't have sprinklers suffered extensive damage and had to be destroyed; in the other, damage was limited to one room because a sprinkler head was operated and extinguished the fire. The school was able to open as normal the next day.'

The estimated average number of pupils affected by large school fires is 90,000-100,000 per year as a result of the destruction or damage of classrooms and school property. The disruption to pupils and staff ranges from an individual classroom being out of action for a matter of weeks to whole schools being taught in portakabins for two to three years.

The biggest objection to installing sprinklers is cost. However, sprinkler systems are surprisingly economical to install, accounting for 3-5 per cent of the cost of a new building. An initial investment can minimise disruption and actually save schools money in the long term. Other areas where the costs can be recovered are through lower insurance premiums and through offsetting other building costs. It also gives greater flexibility in design.

A regional breakdown of the number of fires across the UK for 2003 include:


-London & South East 12%5%

-Midlands 23%43%

-North 26%2%

-North West 13%13%

-Scotland 20%34%

-Wales & South West6%4%

Last year Zurich launched a number of initiatives to tackle the problem of arson. These include a guide, The design and protection of new school buildings and sites, which is available to download from its website, and a specially commissioned play and education programme, Arson Combated Together (ACT).

Fact file

-In 2003 there were 42 large fires in schools, each over£100,000 of damage In 2002 there were 27 large fires in schools each causing over£100,000 of damage In some cases fires can cause over£5 million worth of damage

-An average of 20 schools a week are damaged or destroyed by arson

-Approximately 25% of all major fires in buildings occur in schools

-47% of all offenders found guilty of arson are aged 15-19

-65% of all offenders cautioned for arson are aged 10-14

-31% of all offenders cautioned for arson are aged 15-19














'The Design and protection of new school buildings and sites' is available free of charge to local education authorities, foundation schools, PFI contractors and others with an interest in school building design. The document is also available at


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