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West End Dundee School Campus Building Sprinkler Activation

2 July 2023

Image credit, Mhairi Edwards/ DC Thomson.

This incident reconfirms the danger of malicious acts, arson within schools which can have a devastating impact on both educational and the community as identified within the “Impact of school fires “¹publication identifying the direct and indirect costs associated with school fires, including economic but also educational, social, and emotional effects on the local community.

This sprinkler save provides further evidence on the benefits of sprinklers for life safety, property protection for schools supporting the findings of the ²Sprinkler Saves UK report completed on behalf of the National Fire Chiefs Council to form part of the industry’s case to Government to make sprinklers mandatory in all new schools in England as they are in Wales and Scotland.

It should be understood active systems should not be viewed as an alternative to passive fire protection systems. Providing effective fire protection requires both passive and active elements working in unison and complementing the roles of one another. The use of a combined approach allows the occupants of exiting the building safely/damage to the property is minimized.

  • Date of incident; 2 July 2023
  • Time of incident; 23:28
  • Location; West End Campus Dundee
  • Use of building; Educational Building
  • Number of floors; 3
  • Location of fire; External
  • Automatic Fire Suppression System (AFSS); Sprinklers
  • Fire Rescue Service; Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)


The school campus consists of two primary schools with a nursery built in 2012 over three floors with an AFSS, installed in accordance with the standards set in the building (Scotland) regulations 2004, unlike England where it is only an expectation for the installation of sprinklers.

In 2007, the government published its Building Bulletin 100 publication stipulating how school buildings can be designed in accordance with fire safety arrangements. This included an expectation for sprinklers that.

“All new schools will have sprinklers fitted. Any exception to this will have to be justified by demonstrating that a school is low risk and that the use of a sprinklers would not be goof value for money”.

Despite this guidance due to a loophole designers can circumnavigate this guidance, the outcome sprinklers not installed in a majority of schools within England.

Construction of the building

The gable wall located on the east wing of the premises up to first-floor level consisted of an external skin of brick work reverting to concrete blocks with an external render covering to roof level.

Within the outer wall of the premises the internal skin at ground floor level consisted of oriented strand board (OSB) nailed onto solid timber framing with rock based mineral fibre insulation enclosed with 6mm plywood sheeting with an inner double sheeting of 12.5mm fire rated plasterboard skimmed with plaster with a weather protective canopy above the entrance to the premises.

The incident

Unidentified youths were identified scaling a perimeter fence, entering the grounds of the campus. Who proceeded to position a plastic bench against the east gable end wall beneath an overhanging canopy. An inner drum from one of the playground waste bins located in the grounds of the campus along with other flammable items were placed on top of the bench and set alight.

The fire spread vertically into the underside of the canopy percolating into the wall cavity where the canopy was fixed to the wall at first floor level. Sixteen emergency calls were received by the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to a fire at the school.

As the fire was external to the primary building the premises fire detection, fire sprinkler system had not actuated at this time allowing the alarm to be raised via the remote alarm receiving centre.

Three fire appliances and an aerial appliance were mobilised, on arrival operational crews proceeded to extinguish the fire within the canopy and immediate vicinity using firefighting media, cutting away. The incident was challenging for the crews due to the difficulty gaining access to the fire within the canopy preventing it from spreading within the building cavity.

Unknown to fire crews the initial fire compromised the brickwork at ground floor level, causing the brickwork to spall and crack adjacent to enclosed storeroom located under the east internal staircase within the building.

Radiated heat from the brickwork ignited the inner OSB sterling board spreading to the timber frame causing the rock based mineral fibre board insulation to disintegrate. Resulting in the inner sterling board, insulation, and sheeting to burn away resulting in the plasterboard to fail, collapse. The fire was contained within the timber studwork preventing horizontal fire spread. Following the failure of the internal skin plasterboard the fire spread to within the storeroom, it is estimated this was in the region of 6 hours following the initial call to SFRS.



Activation of the Premises Fire Sprinkler System

Following the failure of the inner skin plasterboard within the ground floor storeroom around 6am, fire, heat and smoke percolated into the storeroom activating the pendent sprinkler head generating a sprinkler fire alarm signal. (activation of a sprinkler rotary gong)

Alerting onsite fire crews to a further seat of fire within the building, which was contained, controlled, and believed to of extinguished the fire by the activation of one sprinkler head, working in unison with the passive fire safety measure fire door to the storeroom, which was in the closed position, preventing the fire from spreading into the adjoining area and extending into the main campus building.

When you compare this to a school fire in Yatton Bristol on the 29 May 2023 where sprinklers were not fitted, the outcome on this occasion was that the school lost 6 classrooms and over 100 pupils were displaced to surrounding schools. Temporary classrooms have now been provided allowing all year groups to be taught on site from September 2023. The rebuild of the infant school is currently being planned and is expected to take at least a year.

Image credit Avon FRS
  • School fires, in particular arson, can have a devastating impact on both a school and the community. If it was not for the prompt actions of the SFRS, installation of the premises sprinkler system the outcome of this incident could have been so much different.
  • The installation of a sprinkler system as part of a package of fire safety measures can
  1. Contain, control, or even extinguish a property fire even where the parameters of the system have been exceeded beyond expected scope.
  2. Raise the alarm ensuring an emergency response.
  • The likelihood of a total loss of property and school resource is dramatically decreased.
  1. Significantly less impact on the community using the school facilities.
  2. Reduces the damage that can be caused to a property of fire and reduce the risk to life.
  • Business continuity, due to the fire damage contained in the vicinity of the east stairwell, the campus was able to open as planned for the new term in August 2023 with repair costs put into 6 figures.
  • This incident Cleary demonstrated the benefits of sprinklers within schools supporting the findings of the Sprinkler saves UK report completed on behalf of the National Fire Chiefs Council to form part of the industry’s case to Government to make sprinklers Mandatory in all new schools in England as they are in Wales and Scotland.

The danger of Arson within schools highlighted once again following the fire at Blatchington Mill School Hove on the 17 January 2023. It is reported on the BBC website that a girl, 16 is being held on suspicion of arson with fire damage sustained to a section of the ground floor of the premises.

Highlighting once again that sprinklers should be mandatory for all new build schools within England following the lead of Scotland, Wales.


¹The Impact of school fires: A study of the wider economic and social impacts on schools and the Local community. LGA Research Report

² Sprinkler Saves UK report completed on behalf of the National Fire Chiefs to form part of the industry’s case to government to make sprinklers mandatory in all new schools in England

Our thanks to both Neil Kerr Fire Safety Officer, SFRS for reporting this incident to Sprinkler Saves Uk demonstrating the benefits of reporting sprinkler activations.

It makes a difference if you hear of a save report it!!!!!!!!!!!!


2 July 2023


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