Fire in Newport Pagnell warehouse could have been prevented

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The fire which destroyed the Liebherr warehouse in Newport Pagnell last month could have been prevented if it had been fitted with sprinklers.

That is according to Chief Operating Officer of Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue, Jason Thelwell, who said it had been recommended that the building be fitted with them.

The fire, which broke out on January 15, quickly destroyed the building on Renny Park Road. It caused a plume of smoke which could be seen for miles around.

The warehouse did not have sprinklers fitted, as they are not mandatory in this country in warehouses under 20,000 square metres. In many other countries, including France, Spain and Germany, they would have been required by law.

Mr Thelwell, said: “Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service and Milton Keynes Council recommended the installation of sprinklers when plans for the warehouse were submitted for building regulation consultation in 2001, but the developers were under no obligation to install them.

“The good news was that the building was safely evacuated when the fire broke out and no-one was injured, and that fire safety engineering designed to give added protection to the adjoining office accommodation did a thorough job. But we believe that more could and should be done to protect businesses against the devastating effects of fire.

“Controlling a fire as it starts is better than repairing the damage after it has spread. Insurance covers some of the financial burden, but the impact from fire loss is far-reaching, and tackling a fire at its earliest stages is vital for the well-being of people, properties, the environment and the economy.”

Fire services are now calling on the Government to promote more actively the installation of sprinklers in industrial and commercial premises, and to review current guidance to bring fire safety policy in line with those of other countries.

Many fire services, including Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service, have also been campaigning for several years for the installation of sprinklers in new homes. In 2011, Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones encouraged local people to sign a national petition urging the Government to bring in a new law.

Mr Thelwell added: “Sprinklers are easier and cheaper to fit than many people think, representing between one and two per cent of the cost of a new build. They save lives and jobs and reduce repair costs. In the absence of legislation, it is our responsibility to prove the case for them.”