The problem with arson

Every year in the UK over 2000 schools and educational premises are damaged by fire – 70 per cent of these fires are started deliberately – Local Government Association.

Arson attacks usually occur while students are at school, as a rule these are generally started by classmates. Because of the very real threat that injury or death could result following such an attack, as well as the spiralling costs associated with building repairs and the transferring of educational facilities following a fire incident, the danger and difficulties posed by arson must be reduced significantly.

A major insurer of schools in theUK, Zurich Municipal, estimated that in 2007, the cost of school fires was £55 million, and 75% of this was attributed to arson. It is unlikely the numbers have drastically altered since this statement.

The cost is just not down to finances as approximately 90,000 children, per year, have their education interrupted, and with the possible loss of coursework, this can be devastating for each student and potentially result in failing important examinations.

Additionally there is the loss of morale experienced by teachers and students alike. How can a reduction be achieved? A fire system which provides an early and accurate warning of any impending incident is of course a pre requisite, but ensuring any behaviour problems are identified, and acted upon, is probably one of the most effective ways in reducing such activities.

As with commercial arson attacks, it’s generally those who are marginalised, harbouring a feeling of resentment or perhaps suffering from a psychological problem or illness that are principally implicated, however within the educational environment it could just be down to bravado or a “bit of fun”.

The arson prevention bureau concludes that arsonists in general are aged between 10 and 18 and live in the local area and either have or do attend the school that is attacked, or have siblings that do so. A report, in 2007, by Mr Jim Knight, the then Schools Minister, stated that all new schools would have sprinkler systems fitted, but with a figure of about 500 out of the 30,000 schools across the UK having such a system fitted to date, and the current budgetary considerations and constraints, in terms of new build, this looks a, long way off.

With the changes that the Fire Safety Order introduced, many Head Teachers are now the “Responsible Person” and consequently they must address the issues of fire safety that includes how to deal with arson.