Tenants in Birmingham high rise blocks will be safer with fire sprinklers as they are proven to both suppress flames and save lives.

That’s the claim of both the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and several sprinkler manufacturers groups as they vehemently challenged the views of a fire safety expert turned Birmingham City Councillor Dr Barry Henley who argued that installing sprinklers in 213 Birmingham tower blocks would be a costly mistake.

Cllr Henley’s said that sprinklers, which the city could install at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £31 million, ‘save property not lives’ and would be a ‘ridiculous’ waste of time and money. The council has pledged to install them in the wake of the Grenfell fire and is trying to secure Government funding.

But Julian Parsons of the NFCC and Buckinghamshire fire service says that Dr Henley’s statements are ‘incorrect’ and that international studies show that chances of surviving a fire in a tower increases by 75-90 per cent if sprinklers are installed.

Grenfell Tower. David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

Sprinklers to protect city tower block residents would be 'ridiculous', says expert

He pointed out there have been no deaths from fire in buildings with sprinklers for the last five years at least and there is no evidence of sprinkler systems flooding apartment blocks.

He said: “Sprinklers are very very effective as part of an overall fire safety strategy. You are much better off with a sprinkler.”

Mr Parsons also highlighted his demonstration video showing a chip pan fire being suppressed by a sprinkler.

His comments were echoed by the Residential Sprinkler Association, National Fire Sprinkler Network and the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association all of who took exception to Dr Henley’s statements.

Residential Sprinkler Associations chairman Nigel Chantler said: “Residential fire sprinkler systems are proven time and time again to be effective in the extinguishment and suppression of fires.

Tower blocks on the Druids Heath estate
Tower blocks on the Druids Heath estate

“Legislation dictates that all residential buildings in excess of 30 metres high must have fire sprinklers installed and it is likely that this height will be reduced. This requirement was put in place after extensive consultation taking into accounts the risks of fire in these type of buildings.

“Occupiers of existing buildings have not been afforded that protection partly due to cost and partly due to the concerns about feasibility of installation to existing properties. RSA members have been installing to council high rise buildings for many years now and these have been very successful and resulted in thousands of very satisfied occupiers who now have peace of mind that they and their families are protected against any risk of fire.

“Whilst Grenfell was a particularly horrific and unusual tragedy, deaths and casualties are a too regular occurrence in high rise properties.

“In 2016/17 there was 714 fires in high rise buildings, ten storeys or more, 56 were recorded as having spread from the room of origin. These fires resulted in three deaths and 139 non-fatal casualties. Cost of course is always a consideration as is risk/benefit but these systems are only installed once, are maintenance free and give occupiers and their landlords peace of mind that should there be a fire the residents and the property are both protected.

"I fail to see how their installation can be considered ridiculous.”

He added that sprinkler systems could be installed for around £1,500 per flat which is comparable to the cost of laying carpets throughout.

The debate started after former Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy pledged to install sprinklers in all council tower blocks following last year’s horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London. Cash-strapped councils across the country are demanding the Government cover the installation costs, but have been told to wait until after the Grenfell fire inquiry makes its recommendations.