A parent whose daughter’s school was destroyed in a catastrophic fire has called for all schools to have sprinklers – a safety measure that is absent in most local schools.
According to figures we obtained through a series of freedom of information requests, just a quarter of schools in Tayside feature the devices, which could prevent severe fire damage.
Scottish legislation makes it a mandatory requirement for all new school buildings to be fitted with sprinklers, which are considered to be 99% effective in dampening flames.
However, hundreds of schools in Tayside are currently unprotected, with local authorities in Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross revealing 75% of schools do not have sprinklers.
Fife Council refused to reveal how many of its schools have sprinklers, amid fears it could make the buildings more vulnerable to arson attacks.
Tricia Hunter, whose 16-year-old daughter attends Woodmill High School, which was ravaged by fire in 2019, said sprinkler systems could have prevented years of chaos to education and wellbeing.
Children were decanted to local schools, including Inverkeithing High School – some five miles away – until a replacement was built.
The disruption, Tricia said, was ongoing and meant her daughter resented going to school.
It didn’t just impact their schooling, it impacted on their mental health.”
Tricia said: “The problems and the catch-up she has had to do has been immense.
“She has come through it all and is now going into S5 but the disruption for near enough two years has only been made worse by Covid.
“She had to do three times the work to get to where she wants to be. It didn’t just impact their schooling, it impacted on their mental health.”
While Fife figures were not provided, just 17 out of 79 schools in Perth and Kinross have sprinklers installed, which includes two secondary schools – Blairgowrie High School and Perth High School.
In Dundee, 11 of 42 schools currently have the equipment and just 17 Angus schools have sprinklers while 70% do not.
Tricia saw how easily a school can go up in flames and be destroyed, and wants all schools to have sprinklers.
She said: “Woodmill went up so quickly. If that had been a day where the kids were at school, there could have been lives lost.
“Then there’s the devastation it causes to pupils when there is a fire. The school is not there and they’ve got to go to different schools.
“It’s not a good place for any child to be in.
“Hopefully the government will learn that every school needs to have these safety measures in place rather than wait until it happens.”
Sprinklers stop ‘major incidents’ in schools
Simon Leroux, chair of the Fire Brigades Union Scotland’s north division, said sprinklers are effective in stopping fires escalating, particularly those which have gone unnoticed.
And with firefighters putting their lives on the line on a daily basis, sprinklers would reduce the need for them to go into a burning building.
He said: “Knowing there’s a sprinkler in place when we get called out can massively help us.
“When the sprinkler activates it douses the flames and stops it becoming a major incident.
“The only reason for us to go inside then is to make sure it has extinguished the fire and even when it hasn’t it’s then much easier to prevent it developing thanks to the early intervention.
Can all schools have sprinklers?
Calls for sprinklers are not new. Following the Morgan Academy blaze in Dundee in 2001, fire chiefs warned the damage could have been significantly reduced with the preventative measure.
More than 20 years on, just 45 local schools are fitted with sprinklers and since then schools such as Braeview Academy have been destroyed by fire.
However, there are many logistical problems which may make some schools unsuitable for sprinklers.
Old buildings, for example, may not have the structure to accommodate the equipment and it could result in their own fire risks if compartments are drilled through, Mr Leroux said.
Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross councils said robust safety measures, which include fire detection and alarm systems, are in place in all schools, including those without sprinklers.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We expect local authorities to make sure schools are safe.
“Fire risks in school buildings must be assessed and appropriate measures put in place to mitigate those risks.
“Sprinklers are one example from a range of measures that may be considered. Fire safety risk assessments determine what is appropriate.”