The new ‘traditional’ method of fire station construction

CarolinaFireJournal - By Jeff Barnes and John Kelley
By Jeff Barnes and John Kelley Bobbitt Design Build
07/05/2011 -
Suppose through growth in your fire district, or ISO requirements, you have the need to renovate or add to your existing station, or even construct a new fire station. This can be a daunting task and you find yourself asking “So, what’s next?” One of the first things that must be done is to partner with professionals and, from the very beginning, a design build professional should be on your team. image

Why Design Build?

Single-source design and production has long been a cornerstone of our economy. This fact has led to the natural evolution of design-build within commercial construction.

From a historical perspective, and contrary to popular belief, contracting separate design and construction teams is truly non-traditional. For centuries, master builders served as chief architect, engineer and builder integrated into one – exemplified by great structures such as the great pyramids of Egypt and the Parthenon in Greece. These master builders accepted full responsibility for their projects, integrating conceptual design with the logistical challenges of the construction process. American structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Pentagon used this master builder approach. Yet, the process fell out of favor through the Industrial Revolution. Significant cost efficiencies and the ability to reduce construction timelines have led to a strong resurgence.

The United States government, the largest purchaser of construction in the world, has a stated goal of 75-80% of their work being deigned and constructed by this method. In MILCON conferences throughout the Southeast, the reasons given to support this goal are that design build saves time, saves money and, in the end, entails less litigation. Simply put, design build creates a team working together to deliver a product (your new or renovated fire station) on time and within budget.

Advantages of Design Build

The advantages of time savings, monetary savings and reduced litigation are achieved through the early involvement of the design build professional in the project. The fire department, designers and constructors can work together to develop a program (identifying the required number of apparatus bays, dorm rooms, training facilities, etc.) that meets the needs of the department today and into the future – and do it at an affordable price. Early cost input helps with the decision process.


Throughout the design process, from the initial program outline through the conceptual plans, preliminary plans, construction drawings and permitting, the design build professional can provide valuable input with the material selection and construction methods and provide cost information to assist with the decision making process while keeping the project in budget.

To effectively manage your project, the design build professional will bring to the table the necessary resources at their disposal, ranging from other design specialists, engineers, specialty contractors and suppliers who can provide the necessary input and expertise to ensure the success of your project.

Single Source

Since most fire departments, paid or volunteer, do not have a staff to dedicate to the project design, working with a single source (your design build professional) can keep the project from overwhelming the fire department. The design build professional can be the facilitator that brings all of the different design elements, regulatory requirements and budgetary requirements into a cohesive plan. With a single source, there is a greater feeling of teamwork and less opportunity for finger pointing.

How to Select a Design Build Professional

Once the decision has been made to use design build as the process to renovate your existing station or construct a new station, your next question is how to select a design build professional. With your evaluation, several factors should come into play:

Experience — You want a design build professional who has a proven track record of successfully delivering fire station projects on time and within budget.

References — Ask to see some of their completed fire station projects, the names of the chiefs of those and other stations and the contact information for those chiefs.

Financial Stability — In today’s troubled economy, you want to partner with someone who has the financial strength to complete your project, pay their bills and fulfill their warranty.

Qualified Subcontractors — A good indicator of the quality and integrity of the design build professional is the subcontractors they use. They can also provide valuable information such as if their projects are well managed, are clean and safe and if they pay their subcontractors on time. In addition, the qualified subcontractors, who also display financial stability and dependability will be around after the project is complete to address any warranty or service issues that may arise.

In the end, what matters is that you have partnered with a design build professional who has the capability and wherewithal to complete your project on time, within budget and in a manner that exceeds your expectations. You want a design build professional who cares about the success of your project, who wants to fulfill the station’s requirements so that the needs of the community are met and who wants you to be so pleased with the project that you will gladly be a reference for their next project. Selecting an experienced design build professional will get you the facility you want at the best value which, in turn, provides you with the greatest long-term return on your investment.

Comments & Ratings

Issue 33.4 | Spring 2019

Past Issue Archives