School fires highlight need for sprinklers - Fire Service

Kerikeri High School would have suffered significantly less fire damage from a blaze at the weekend and would have reopened today had a sprinkler system been installed, says a Fire Service commander.

A fire at the high school which started early Sunday morning in a science block was one of two arson attacks on schools during the holiday weekend, with Mangere East School also losing several classrooms to fire damage. Both schools did not have sprinkler systems installed.

Northland Fire Service assistant national commander Trevor Andrews said his experience with sprinkler systems suggested that had one been installed the school would have suffered much less damage, meaning students would have been able to return to school today.

Damage to the school including a spill of toxic chemicals will prevent the school's 1400 students being able to return until Thursday.

The fire highlighted the need for the Ministry of Education to rethink its policy on sprinkler systems in schools, Mr Andrews said.

It was important that all schools had them installed, he said.

Ministry policy requires sprinklers to be installed only in new schools and schools which add new buildings or put in extensions over 1000 square metres.

"Schools are unfortunately targeted by arsonists, so they are high risk," Mr Andrews said.

"Sprinklers really are the best option to prevent and avoid building damage, but also avoid loss to resources and disruption to schools," he said

Mangere East School also suffered class room damage after a suspected arson attack yesterday and like Kerikeri High School the school did not have a sprinkler system installed.

Fire safety officer Russell Dickson said sprinkler systems would have dealt with the fire "very quickly".

Mangere East School principal Anthony Noble-Campbell said the issue of sprinklers at the school was for the Ministry of Education and not for him to comment on.

Kerikeri High School principal Elizabeth Forgie told Radio New Zealand that schools could not afford to install sprinkler systems.

"The financial constraints that schools work under are very, very tight," she said.

Installing monitored alarm systems was the most schools could afford, Ms Forgie said.