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Highland Council refuses to reveal which schools do not have sprinkler systems

By Louise Glen

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Park Primary was destroyed by a fire on February 24.
Picture: James MacKenzie
Park Primary was destroyed by a fire on February 24. Picture: James MacKenzie

Less than three months after a faulty laptop sparked a blaze which destroyed one of its primary schools, Highland Council has refused to reveal which schools did not have sprinkler systems.

The council said revealing that information would make the schools more vulnerable to arson attacks.

An investigation by the Inverness Courier discovered that only 23 of the council’s 200 schools have sprinkler systems.

That is just 15 of the region’s 171 primaries – less than 10 per cent – and eight out of 29 secondaries.

In February, the laptop blaze destroyed Park Primary in Invergordon, where there was no sprinkler system.

When asked which other schools don’t have sprinkler systems, a council spokeswoman said: “The council is unwilling to divulge information that could potentially make sites more vulnerable to arson attacks, especially at a time when most of our schools are not in use.”

And when asked why there were no sprinkler systems at some schools, she said: “Sprinkler systems were not required by the standards applicable at [the] time of construction.”

The shocking figures have prompted regional MSP David Stewart to demand systems are fitted retrospectively to protect pupils, teachers and staff.

He raised concerns about the lack of school sprinkler systems with the First Minister six months ago.

At the time he pointed out only a quarter of Scotland’s schools have sprinklers – making the Highlands below the national average.

David Stewart.
David Stewart.

“Sprinklers are a vital element of fire safety,” Mr Stewart said.

“They have been proven to be highly effective at preventing the spread of fires and the destruction they cause, with no case of multiple fire deaths in Scotland where automatic fire suppression systems have been installed.

“While they are not the only answer to preventing fire deaths, I believe there is a strong case for them being installed in all schools.”

Since 2010 automatic fire suppression systems were made mandatory under building legislation, but there is no requirement in law to have them fitted retrospectively.

Mr Stewart added: “The environment is changing where sprinklers in schools will become the norm, rather than the exception, however, the retrofitting of these systems in our schools will require additional funding from the Scottish Government and I will continue to make the case for that.”

Derek Wilson, the fire service’s local senior officer for the Highlands, was in favour of sprinkler systems.

“Where larger refurbishment work is taking place within a school, the retrospective fitting of a sprinkler system is considered on an individual basis through a risk assessment process,” he added.

A council spokeswoman said it would always welcome the opportunity to improve the safety of its estate.

“We recognise that fire suppression systems such as sprinklers can help increase the time available for occupants to evacuate the building in the unfortunate event of a fire,” she said.

“If the Scottish Government were to make additional funding available to install suitable fire suppression systems to schools without such systems, we would welcome that as a positive step to improve the fire safety on the school estate.

“The staff, pupils and visitors to our buildings will always be more valuable to us than our property.

“We are grateful that the fire drills that the staff and pupils practiced regularly at Park Primary effectively enabled everyone to get out safely and are thankful that no firefighters were injured protecting the remainder of the school.

“We will continue to work to maintain safe sites, remain vigilant and practice our fire drills to ensure the safety of all people who attend our sites.”

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