An ongoing investigation into the recent fire in the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building has thrown into focus the fact that no sprinklers were installed at the time the fire began on 15 June 2018.
The information about the lack of a fire suppression system was revealed by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) the day after the fire started, indicating that the system used by the school before the previous fire of 2014 had been removed.
As part of the investigation – conducted by the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee – several individuals have commented on the lack of sprinklers. The most recent comments come from Stephen Mackenzie, an independent fire, security and resilience adviser.
When asked by the Committee why the sprinkler system was removed after the first fire, Mr Mackenzie responded that he was "puzzled as an expert", and that there should have been a "temporary or phased installation" of a replacement system as part of the refurbishment of the School following the first fire.
Previous sessions of the Committee have revealed various underlying issues surrounding the implementation of a sprinkler system, with David Page of the Page/Park architectural practice citing the complex nature of the installation, owing to factors such as insurance, time and funding.
The Glasgow School of Art itself has responded to Mr Mackenzie’s comments, claiming that he did not perform a thorough enough analysis on the written submissions and oral evidence that they provided to the investigation, and revealing that the sprinkler system was in fact unusable as a result of the previous fire in 2014.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Fraser, an architect, downplayed the need for a sprinkler system’s phased implementation during construction, stating to the Committee that, "you sometimes find that it is the sprinkler system industry that is saying that. I do not think that what will come out of the inquiry is the need for every building site to install a sprinkler system during current works, because that might make life very difficult."
Dawson Stelfox, a conservation architect with Consarc Design Group, suggested that a change to existing fire safety regulations could be warranted, his reason being that, "At the moment the statutory position […] is that a fire risk assessment has to be done, but the focus of that is on life safety, is on getting people out of the building in time, and it's not on asset safety, it's not on protecting the building."
At the time of publication the investigation by the Scottish Parliament Committee is still ongoing.