History repeats

Hotel-Fires-Image credit-alamy_2rcnhnt

The Business Sprinkler Alliance is concerned that lessons aren’t being learned and asks why sprinkler systems aren’t standard in hotels.

A significant fire broke out in Brighton in July 2023, resulting in the partial destruction of a Grade II listed hotel. The incident was worse than the previous fire that occurred at the hotel in 1998. The recurrence of such events raises questions into the reasons behind this historical repetition. Remarkably, the much-loved hotel lacked a crucial fire safety measure: sprinkler systems.

The fire engulfed the Royal Albion Hotel, posing a formidable challenge for firefighting efforts from across three counties. The immediate vicinity had to be evacuated due to the thick smoke and debris. As the smoke spread across Brighton, residents were advised to keep their windows shut to prevent inhalation. The fire raged through the night and into the following morning. Fanned by strong winds, it necessitated the intervention of the London Fire Brigade in addition to the fire and rescue services from East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey. Due to concerns about structural integrity, sections of the hotel had to be demolished.

In the aftermath, it was discovered that textured wall coatings contained asbestos. The rooms were charred and the roof had collapsed. While thankfully there were no casualties, this fire resulted in all parts of the hotel suffering extensive damage.

Hotel-Fires-Image credit-Getty-1549043303

Other incidents

This alarming vulnerability of hotels to fires extends beyond this incident. In 2017, a fire at Cameron House Hotel near Loch Lomond resulted in two fatalities and three individuals requiring hospital treatment. In 2023, and just before the publication of the Cameron House Hotel fire inquiry report, a fire in the New County Hotel in Perth claimed three lives.

The subsequent report on the Cameron House Hotel by Sheriff Thomas McCartney advocated for the mandatory installation of active fire suppression systems, specifically sprinkler systems, in historic building conversions intended for hotel use. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) endorsed this recommendation, urging its application to all public-access buildings. In October 2023, the Scottish government announced that an expert group would be established to consider historic hotel conversions and fire safety requirements.

Cameron House Hotel has since reopened with enhanced fire safety measures including a sprinkler system. The inquiry into the fire at the New County Hotel is ongoing.

In 2019, a fire at the Grade II-listed Claremont Hotel in Eastbourne resulted in its demolition due to safety concerns. Reconstruction efforts have been slow, with the hotel awaiting restoration almost four years after the fire.

In fact, there is a hotel fire somewhere in the UK nearly every day. Over the past six years, England has seen 260 hotel fires on average per year, while the UK has seen 351 hotel fires in the same period. After recent regulatory changes relating to buildings where people sleep, many people are surprised sprinklers are not the norm in hotels, particularly those converted from older properties.

Surprisingly, building standards and regulations lack clear guidance on the mandatory provision of sprinkler systems in hotels, irrespective of their height. If such regulations had been in place, sprinkler systems would likely have contained these fires by activating automatically.

Beyond their primary function in fire containment, evidence underscores that sprinkler systems can play a vital role in safeguarding lives. It’s imperative we break the cycle of history repeating itself.

For more, visit bit.ly/B_SprinklerAlliance

View fire statistics data tables at bit.ly/GOV_firestats

Image credit | Alamy | Getty

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