The Grenfell Tower disaster has highlighted serious concerns over fire safety in tower blocks, with many asking whether sprinklers would have helped to save lives.
The 24-storey tower was built without sprinklers in 1974, with regulations in England only requiring them in high-rise residential buildings since 2007.
Nick Paget-Brown, the Tory leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said sprinklers were not fitted during a recent £10 million refurbishment because residents did not want the prolonged disruption it would have caused.
The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) estimated the added cost would have been around £200,000.
The Fire Brigades Union claims there has never been a multiple death in a building fitted with sprinklers.
But former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue, said there are more than 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK that don’t have sprinklers.
He said: “There are people who would argue that it’s too costly and there are other measures that could have been done, but it’s a fact that people don’t die in sprinkler buildings.”
A public inquiry launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy will look at whether they should be retrofitted to older tower blocks, but as former minister and ex-firefighter Mike Penning said: “People have been calling, I think probably rightly, for sprinklers to be installed for many, many years under many different governments.”
Campaigners include former Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross, who was brought into the issue some 15 years ago because of his success with road safety laws.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that a series of ministers – including now-London Mayor Sadiq Khan back in 2009 – had turned down his efforts to make changes. I don’t blame the ministers – they were acting on advice, and there’s also this natural complacency you get when things are getting better,” said Mr Ross.
“Fire deaths were going down, they were going down very consistently. Sprinklers were going to cost £1,200 per dwelling, the same as fitted carpets. That was an additional expenditure. I could understand it, but frankly I’m bloody furious looking back.”
Paul Fuller, chief fire officer for Bedfordshire and chairman of the Fire Sector Federation, said sprinklers could have helped at Grenfell Tower.
He told World At One: “We know that sprinklers are effective. Also, sprinklers will make the environment more survivable by containing the fire and containing the smoke.
“But they are not a total solution. We also have to make sure that passive protection measures – things like the structure of the building and the fire resistance of the building – are all properly in place as well.”