Safety | Education

How fires can start easily in schools

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What happens when a fire starts?

When a fire starts, the first hazard is smoke and hot toxic gases. They will rise to the ceiling, covering that space quickly before filling the whole area if no action is taken.

Meanwhile, flames and heat will spread to combustible materials, fittings, furniture, paperwork etc. They then rise to the ceiling before – as with the smoke – travelling horizontally. Heat is radiated back downwards, and the fire grows before reaching ‘flashover’ where every combustible surface is exposed to thermal radiation.

Fires can start anywhere

Fires can start easily, and anywhere, in a school. All it takes is a source of enough heat in contact with a combustible material (or flammable liquid) and air.

Deliberate fires in schools (arson – see article here) can be started almost anywhere. Such incidences can be hard to predict and avoid, although there are mitigating steps that can be taken. More planning can be made to avoid accidental fires in schools.

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Preventing a fire

Protecting against fire means identifying heat sources and combustible materials and making them as fire-safe as possible.

In schools, there are plenty of heat sources – such as canteen kitchens (containing gas cookers etc) and science laboratories (Bunsen burners, motors, etc) and electrical equipment in almost every classroom.

Equally, there are plenty of combustible materials in schools too. These include paper, cardboard boxes, cleaning cloths, cooking oils and chemicals used in laboratories.

Escape routes

As well as making sure supplies are safely stored, escape routes must be protected so that smoke cannot penetrate them. Because they have high respiration rates, younger pupils are particularly at risk from smoke.

Escape route planning needs to consider objects in the way, such as desks and other furniture as well as the mobility of students.

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