My New Fire Truck Won’t Fit In My Station!


CarolinaFireJournal - Chris Goins
Chris Goins
01/31/2017 -

As a design-build company, we often receive phone calls from fire departments who want to buy a new truck, but the new designs won’t fit into their current bays. Sometimes we hear from departments that have already bought a new truck and didn’t realize it wouldn’t fit until they tried to pull it in for the first time.

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Fire trucks keep getting bigger and bigger and stations that are 30, 40 and 50 years old aren’t built to house those big engines. So, what are your options?

Option #1 – Increase Door Height

Most standard doors in an older fire station are 10 to 12 feet high and will not accommodate the larger vehicles. Therefore, an obvious solution is to install a taller overhead door. While this may work in some cases, oftentimes the roof height isn’t sufficient to accommodate the larger door. With a 14-foot ceiling, it’s nearly impossible to add in a 14-foot overhead door. The only way to accomplish this would be to raise the entire roof height, which can be quite expensive.

Option #2 – Add a Bay toYour Existing Station

Another possible approach is to add a new bay to your existing facility, if you have the site space to do so. This can work for some departments, but there are several important considerations before choosing this direction.

For example, if you are adding a bay onto your existing bays, code requires that the area stay under 5,000 square feet to avoid having to sprinkle this section of your building. If you exceed 5,000 square feet, you will be required to either sprinkle the entire bay area or separate the new bay area with a fire wall.  Also, when adding on to an existing facility, you may be required to bring the rest of the building up to current code. That means making sure your station meets all current ADA requirements and possibly upgrading various systems within the building. Another factor is the complexity of the site work that would be needed to increase your facility’s footprint. Examining these and other factors will help you evaluate the pros and cons of adding a bay.

Option #3 – Build a New Station

While building an entirely new fire station may not be a feasible option for every department, there are times that this turns out to be the best approach. In some cases, building a new station can be less expensive than doing a complete renovation of your current facility.

The first step in deciding if a new station is the right choice is to have an evaluation done by a design-builder with experience in the fire and rescue industry.

What Will Fire Trucks Look Like 50 Years From Now?

The term “50-year station” has become a common buzzword in the fire and rescue industry. Everyone wants a station that will last for the next 50 years. However, when stations were built 50 years ago, don’t you think they thought the same thing? The fire chiefs and municipal planners of the 1960s and 70s probably never imagined that a fire truck would be so big that it couldn’t fit into a 12-foot tall door, but here we are.

So how do we build our stations to accommodate future needs? Since we have absolutely no idea what fire trucks of the future will look like, we do our best to build for all scenarios. Is it conceivable that the trucks will get smaller as technological advances continue at a rapid pace? Is it possible that we will have electric fire trucks in the not-so-distant future? If so, should we prepare by putting electrical charging capabilities at each bay?

These are things to consider, but for now, we build with taller and wider doors to fit bigger and wider trucks.

Food for Thought: Are Bigger Trucks Best for Our Community?

It’s interesting to ask why trucks are getting bigger and if bigger trucks are good for our communities.

According to a blog post by Lloyd Alter, “Why designing streets for fire trucks gets it backwards,” in America we design our streets to fit emergency vehicles instead of the other way around. Therefore, our urban design is determined by the size of emergency vehicles and not by planners and architects.

In Europe, emergency vehicles are designed to maneuver on very narrow streets, and studies show they have the same effectiveness as our large emergency vehicles. Lloyd suggests that by planning our streets around the size of emergency vehicles, we are making the streets larger, allowing commuters to go at faster speeds and ultimately creating a more dangerous environment for our communities.

What would it look like if fire trucks were built to fit our communities, instead of building communities to fit our trucks? If that happens, the next generation won’t have the problem we face today of equipment not fitting into the facility. Perhaps 50 years from now firefighters will look back and marvel at how their predecessors designed stations and equipment the way they did.

For now, we plan with contingencies to be ready for whatever the future holds. If your department is thinking of buying a new fire truck, and your current station is not big enough, call a design-builder to discuss your options. We are here to help.

Chris Goins is a project developer at Bobbitt Design Build who specializes in fire station design and construction.
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Issue 31.4 | Spring 2017

Keeping First Responders Safe
Ideas to improve safety on the job, leadership, serving our community and keeping the desire to serve others...