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Schools are a high risk group when it comes to fire. As schools are unoccupied for long periods of time, arson attacks are not uncommon and accidental fires can get out of control if measures aren’t in place.

There are countless ways a fire can start, but for schools, arson is unfortunately quite common.

Arson is the act of intentionally setting fire to buildings, areas, vehicles or any other type of property. Nearly half of fires in schools during school time are started deliberately and with any fire, the effects can be devastating.

There were 68,400 deliberate fires in total in 2014 and it accounted for 44% of the fires that the fire service attended.

South Yorkshire Fire Services suggested that schools install sprinkler systems after 50 school fires broke out in the area in just over two years. The main cause of these was arson.

How do children injure themselves?

Children have a natural tendency to be inquisitive. They like to explore and experience new sights and sounds and at times this can lead to clumsy accidents.

You name it, they’ll do it — walking into tables, opening cupboards and pulling everything out, climbing onto everything and putting everything they can find in their mouths.

One little mistake however, like burning a splint on the bunsen burner that little bit too long or falling off a chair, can lead to something more dangerous. With fire being one of the main health and safety risks, here are some safety statistics that might surprise you

  • In 2013/14, there were around 1,000 fires in schools
  • 50,000 children under the age of 14 go to A&E because of burns or scalds
  • Trips and falls are the most common — making up 40% of reported injuries
  • About 1,700 children are injured in climbing frame accidents each year
  • More accidents happen in school grounds than on school trips
  • Boys are more likely to be injured than girls — sorry lads!
  • 3,000 injuries a year are caused by tripping over toys left on the floor
  • Accidents are more likely to occur during break and PE — any reason to get out of PE, eh!

One of parents’ (many!) concerns about their children at school is what happens if a fire breaks out.

The damaging effect of fire

On the morning of Sunday 21st August 2016, there were over 60 calls to 999 as fire broke out on the roof of the Selsey Academy near Chichester.  

An eyewitness who lives near the school said there were “plumes and plumes of black smoke towering above the house, rather like an apocalypse”.

Firefighters drove through miles of dense, black smoke as they rushed to the scene. Up to 100 firefighters tackled the fire, which is thought to have started at around 8am, bringing it under control in the late afternoon. The school suffered extensive damage, leaving it in ruins.

While the school begins the long and expensive task of rebuilding, the pupils are starting the year in temporary classrooms.

What happens if fire safety is ignored?

Hekmat Kaveh, the owner of one of Britain’s top independent schools has been ordered to pay nearly £50,000 for risking pupils’ lives by having inadequate fire safety measures.

Kaveh, who owns and manages Abbey College in Malvern, Worcestershire, admitted 15 fire safety breaches when he appeared in court. He was fined £24,000 for the offences and ordered to pay £25,000 court costs.

Worcester Crown Court heard that the school allowed children to sleep in boarding houses which had faulty smoke alarms and non-functional fire doors.

Judge Michael Cullum commented that Kaveh’s fire risk assessment was “woefully inadequate” and that he had “both a moral and legal responsibility for the staff and children. The consequences of a fire would have been disastrous”.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service brought the prosecution against Kaveh after inspectors visited the school in March 2011. Kaveh told the court: “Clearly, I was let down by those people employed and instructed to review the fire assessment at the start of the year, but the law is clear in that the employer is the responsible person and for that reason I had no option but to plead guilty.

“The college now meets all regulatory requirements. Obviously the fire assessments were reviewed when I was made aware of this by external contractors.”

Following sentencing, deputy chief officer Richard Lawrence said: “This was an extremely serious case where those living and sleeping inside the premises were being put at risk.

“Business owners have a clear responsibility to ensure that both the public and their employees are as safe as possible from the risk of fire.

“This verdict sends out a clear message: in severe cases where responsibilities are ignored, we will prosecute, as it is never acceptable to put lives at risk.”

These are some very simple measures to make sure your school is safer in the face of a fire. However, it’s often simple measures which can make the difference between saving a life and losing one. Here are things you can actively do to prevent risks to the lives of others and property by ensuring the following:

  • Fire doors are in good working order
  • Evacuation plans are up to date
  • Means of escape routes not blocked and kept clear
  • Fire doors not wedged open

Without an organised and efficient evacuation plan, situations like this might occur!


Photo source. Source. Campsmount Technology College, Campsall, after the fire. Photo by Chris Lawton

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