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Where are the Sprinklers?

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Iain Cox, Chair of Business Sprinkler Alliance, highlights what he identifies as a major fire safety failing at the recently opened Gardman garden supplies distribution centre in Daventry in the English county of Northamptonshire.

It has been over six years since a devastating fire completely destroyed the unsprinklered and newly opened Gardman garden supplies distribution centre in Daventry. Despite the substantial costs and resources required for demolition, planning, and rebuilding, estimated at over £30 million, the site has finally been cleared for redevelopment with an expected completion in 2024 and Hankook Tyre UK the new tenant.

While the planning application drawings have been amended to show provisions for sprinkler tanks, it does raise a question in our minds as to whether the new building will once again be allowed to operate as a warehouse without the installation of a sprinkler system.

While the planning application drawings have been amended to show provisions for sprinkler tanks, it does raise a question in our minds as to whether the new building will once again be allowed to operate as a warehouse without the installation of a sprinkler system.

With logistics and warehouse space and building plots in high demand, it is surprising that it has taken such an extensive period of time to make this land reusable following the fire. This delay highlights the complexities and challenges involved in rebuilding after such a catastrophic event, further emphasising the importance of proactive fire safety measures.

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It should also be pointed out that the original warehouse on this site achieved a “Very Good” BREEAM rating for its energy efficiency. Sadly, this was not matched in terms of resilience, as the building lacked active protection such as sprinklers. It was over 35,000m2 and relied on manual intervention to limit fire spread. Despite more than 50 firefighters tackling the blaze in the early hours of March 12th 2018, the building was rapidly destroyed by a fire that had far-reaching consequences, just six months after it opened. The Gardman business went into administration before the end of 2018.

The replacement logistics and distribution facility will be a 33,000m2 unit branded as Prologis Apex Park DC9 for new tenants Hankook Tyre UK. Like the previous building, the new building has recently been completed with the construction company noting that it is BREEAM “Excellent” with an EPC rating of A.1  

This new and sustainable building is likely to contain thousands of tyres so one would assume that active fire protection and resilience, alongside energy objectives, would make perfect sense. We only have to look at the devastating consequences of the previous warehouse fire at this site to realise that a building’s sustainability does not account for its immunity to fire.

Following a fire event people assume that rebuilding efforts are quick. History clearly shows that this is not the case. In a business context rebuild times alone are often in the region of 12-to-18 months depending on the scale of the building. This is after discussion of the future of the business, drawing up of plans, submitting and receiving planning approval. All the while a business impacted by a fire will have to seek alternative space, machinery, and supplies to continue.

As the building moves toward fit out it is interesting to note that a warehouse of this scale is subject to regulatory guidance that means sprinklers would normally be provided. However, the previous warehouse on this site that suffered a fire in 2018 obviously which was of the same size did not. It too was brand new, and we can only assume that it had some compensatory feature or a design that meant that officials were satisfied that sprinklers were not necessary. Frankly, we have been confused by this, as the consequences of the fire demonstrated that the fire service faced a fire situation in this case where they could only act to contain the fire. Surely buildings that are this badly damaged by fire have fire loads within them that require forms of active fire protection, such as sprinklers, to limit a potential fire?

Acting quickly to quell the spread of fire when it is first detected aids fire safety, limits damage and minimises impacts. Sprinklers have been shown to be effective to contain, control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases when caused to operate2.

The inclusion of a sprinkler system can prevent major financial and equipment losses and help businesses to be resilient to fire incidents because they control or extinguish a blaze before the fire and rescue service arrive. The impacted business can be operational within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs.

References

1 https://www.benniman.co.uk/practical-completion-for-new-357000-sq-ft-unit-at-prologis-apex-park/

2Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Economics May 2017

For more information about the BSA visit the www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org

Iancox
Iain Cox

Iain Cox is Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NSFN) and the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council. Iain retired from the Fire Service in June 2013 after 34 years, the last ten of which he served as Chief Fire Officer of Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service. From 2009 to 2011 he was a Board member of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) with responsibilities for Prevention and Protection. He was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service medal in 2009. He holds a BSc in Physical Geography from the University of Reading and an MA in Management from Coventry University.

Author

  • Iain Cox

    Iain Cox is Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NSFN) and the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council. Iain retired from the Fire Service in June 2013 after 34 years, the last ten of which he served as Chief Fire Officer of Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service. From 2009 to 2011 he was a Board member of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) with responsibilities for Prevention and Protection. He was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service medal in 2009. He holds a BSc in Physical Geography from the University of Reading and an MA in Management from Coventry University.

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