Fire officer says tower sprinklers will save lives

Dave Curry
Dave Curry
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A SENIOR fire officer says lives will be put in danger if sprinklers are not fitted to Portsmouth’s newest landmark building.

Hampshire’s firefighters say the refusal to install sprinklers in the ‘Blade’ building being built at Victoria Park, central Portsmouth, is of grave concern.

The county’s fire chiefs called an emergency meeting with the building’s developer and owner, Watkin Jones, held behind closed doors on Tuesday afternoon, in a last-ditch attempt to convince them to install the safety devices. But the firm is still refusing to follow the fire service’s requests.

The force’s deputy chief officer, Dave Curry, said: ‘We don’t believe this building should be built without sprinklers. It will put lives in danger, residents and firefighters alike.

‘We have recent experience of the loss of life which can be caused to fire officers dealing with fires in high-rise buildings.

‘Our aim is to make people’s lives safer and that includes our officers and residents. The company has refused to install sprinklers. We will continue to try to convince them it should not be without sprinklers.’

The 330ft, 33-storey ‘blade’ will be leased to Portsmouth University, as a students’ hall of residence.

It will house 600 students.

But the law says as a student hall, the £30m development is exempt from having to contain sprinklers, which would cost Watkin Jones up to an estimated £400,000 to install.

Mr Curry said: ‘When the fire safety regulations were first put in place, most student halls were halls in which people lived. People never envisaged these buildings as 33 storeys high, in city centres. A fire at 32 storeys would be very dangerous. Sprinklers are needed, as they would be for a block of flats, to reduce that. They help to contain fires, ensuring small ones stay small.’

He confirmed the building will be a central point of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and other brigades’ attempts to have the law changed.

He said: ‘We’ll lobby for the rules to be re-examined by chief fire officers, who can take it to the government.’

Ronnie King, vice chairman of the National Fire Sprinkler Network, said stronger measures could be taken. He said: ‘This is potentially horrific. It’s a major accident waiting to happen. A court of law should rule on whether sprinklers are needed here.’

But Watkin Jones said it complied with national fire regulations in its designs, which include fire-detection and alarm systems, and a fire-fighting staircase, lift, ventilated lobby and wet risers.

Project manager Paul Gillespie, said: ‘Our design meets all national requirements and standards.’