A FIRE chief fears lives could be lost as the number of arson attacks in West Yorkshire schools continues to rise.
Now the county's fire chief, Phil Toase, has made an impassioned plea for councils nationwide to follow Kirklees and fit sprinklers in all new and refurbished schools.
He spoke out after it emerged there have been 65 fires in West Yorkshire's schools so far this year - and 40 were started deliberately.
And he warned it was only a question of time before lives were lost in a school fire.
He said: "Fire in school buildings is not uncommon, but we are starting to see an escalating number of fires deliberately started during school hours.
"On average, 20 schools a week are damaged or destroyed by fire-setters countrywide.
"The majority of schools built prior to 1980 have very poor fire resistance and sadly even new buildings are not always fitted with sprinkler systems."
Mr Toase called for the urgent installation of sprinklers in all new and refurbished schools.
He said: "The Government will invest some £25bn in secondary school buildings over the next 10 to 15 years and yet seems reluctant to make sprinklers mandatory.
"We must not allow this golden opportunity to improve pupil safety to pass.
"While some local councils, including those in West Yorkshire, are thankfully beginning to champion the cause locally, others are letting this absence of central direction and ill-informed prejudice, cloud their judgement."
Mr Toase, who will become leader of the Chief Fire Officers' Association from next April, revealed that only 200 out of 28,000 schools in the UK are fitted with sprinklers.
He said sprinklers added 3% to building costs.
Across the UK last year the cost of school fires totalled £83m - equivalent to employing 2,500 extra teachers.
Mr Toase added: "Contrary to popular belief, sprinklers don't actuate without good reason.
"Typically, a small fire would trigger a single sprinkler head, extinguishing the blaze almost immediately and allowing damage to be cleared away so the school could re-open the following day.
"Sprinkler systems have been proven in use for well over 100 years during which time they have a 99% success rate. There has never been a fire death in a fully sprinklered building in the UK."
A spokeswoman for Kirklees Council said all new schools have full sprinkler systems as a matter of course.
Any school buildings undergoing major refurbishments also have sprinker systems installed.