London's Fire Chief Calls for Sprinkler Mandate

"Now is the time to remind Government of life-saving recommendations we have been making for years," London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said. "We are calling for residential tower blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers, and they should be mandatory in all new school builds and major refurbishments."

London's fire chief on Sept. 13, as the government's Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire commenced, called for action on fire sprinklers in residential high-rise buildings and schools. At least 80 people died in the June 14, 2017, fire at the residential tower in west London; the inquiry will report its findings directly to Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Inquiry is being chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a highly experienced former judge of the Court of Appeal, who in his opening statement called the fatal fire "a tragedy unprecedented in modern times" and also paid tribute to firefighters and other emergency responders who tried to rescue residents from the flames. "We are acutely aware, not only that so many people died or were injured in the fire, but that many of those who survived have been severely affected by their experiences," he said. "We are also conscious that many have lost everything and even now are dependent on others for many of their daily needs. The Inquiry cannot undo any of that, but it can and will provide answers to the pressing questions of how a disaster of this kind could occur in 21st century London and thereby, I hope, provide a small measure of solace. It is also right to recall that a disaster of this magnitude provided an unprecedented challenge to the emergency services, in particular the London Fire Brigade. There are many aspects of the response to the fire that the Inquiry will wish to examine, but it is right that I should pay tribute to the members of the Fire and Rescue Service, many of whom risked their own lives in an attempt to save others."

"The tragic fire at Grenfell has thrown fire safety into the spotlight and, while we are not pre-empting the findings of the Inquiry, now is the time to remind Government of life-saving recommendations we have been making for years," London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said. "We are calling for residential tower blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers, and they should be mandatory in all new school builds and major refurbishments. Sprinklers are the only fire safety system that detects a fire, suppresses a fire, and raises the alarm. They save lives and protect property, and they are especially important where there are vulnerable residents who would find it difficult to escape, like those with mobility problems.

"My priority is to save lives but I can also make an economic case for sprinklers. It costs around £1,500 - £2,500 to retrofit a flat, while the cost of refurbishing a one-bedroom flat after a fire is about £77,000," Cotton added. "For years builders, developers, local authorities, and private housing providers have ignored the clear benefits of sprinklers. It's not just about homes; we go to around 80 fires in London schools every year. Fires in schools cause major disruption to pupils, breakfast and after school clubs are cancelled and, often, a costly repair bill could have been avoided. If they are incorporated from the design stage, sprinklers are around 1 percent of the total build cost."

Last year, May's government consulted on removing guidance around incorporating sprinklers into all new school builds and refurbishments, according to Cotton, who noted that the London Fire Brigade in the same year recommended sprinklers in 184 London schools being refurbished or built, but its advice was taken in only four of these cases.

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