Trends in fire station design and construction

CarolinaFireJournal - Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson LEED AP BD&C
04/23/2012 -

Due to recent global events, we are seeing a greater emphasis placed on properly training and equipping our fire stations and their personnel. This shift in how we view our community fire departments and their role is evident by the ARRA grants that were issued in 2009 to help build and grow the fire service sector. Like any and all industry, significant advances have been and continue to be made in the fields of equipment, technology, and training. These new advances should be a consideration when planning to design and build. Below we offer our opinion on some of the recent trends in fire station construction.


Training: The ability to train personnel on-site has become a major source of conversation when the construction of a new station is being planned. We have always understood the importance of training our personnel, but today there are so many different ways to and types of training that is relatively simple to design a number of these training elements into your new station.

Every new station should have a training room large enough to accommodate the needs of their station, with consideration given to hosting occasional community events. Community outreach is an important part of the duties of each station.

A training wall can easily be inserted into an interior wall or placed in the apparatus bays to allow for ladder training, forced entry/exit, and confined space training.

Another training related design element we have seen recently is the inclusion of a training tower. Typically the training tower will match closely in height the typical make-up of the surrounding community. The tower can be used for numerous training possibilities, to include ladder raises and carries, rope rescue, search and rescue, repelling, and vertical confined space training. When thinking about the design of your new station, be sure to include numerous training elements to keep your personnel performing at their peak levels.

Reducing Response Times: One of the keys to successfully fighting a fire is to arrive on the scene at its earliest stages. When building a new station, you should focus on elements of design that will allow for a reduction in the time it takes your personnel to respond. There are numerous design elements that can incorporated at little or no cost to the station to aid in this endeavor. First and foremost, utilize a single story design (if the site constraints allow) so the use of stairs or fire poles is eliminated. Providing a clear and easily accessible path from any point in the station to the apparatus bays is critical. Place as few doors in the access path as possible, and when they are necessary, always swing the door toward the apparatus bay to prevent any possible bottlenecking.

Four fold side motion doors are not a new technology, but are being installed in new fire stations with great frequency. When compared to conventional rolling or sectional overhead doors, they have much to offer. The operating speed of the four fold doors is approximately 2.5 times greater than that of the overhead doors, providing a much quicker and safer exit for your personnel. Although the initial costs for the four fold doors is more than the conventional overhead doors, door longevity is increased and maintenance is significantly reduced.

Community: The placement of fire stations is typically determined by distance and travel time within their communities. This often means placing a fire station in or near a subdivision or commercial district. Due to the close ties the station will have with the community, and to maintain community “buy-in” for the station, the design needs to complement the existing architecture of the area. When planning your new station, you should consider holding an open forum for the community to see and comment on the design concept, the site plan, the landscaping plan, and provide them with the reasoning behind the location of the new station and how it will better serve the community. Thinking too far inside or outside the box when designing a station can have a negative impact on the moral of the local community.

Many new stations are including an exterior patio/BBQ area where they can cook for and host fundraising and community events. Providing the community an opportunity to visit the station in a comfortable setting such as a BBQ or local event allows your station to retain the continued support and endorsement from the community.

Health and Safety: Our fire fighters are already in a profession which puts their lives at risk every day. It is our duty as construction professionals to provide them with the safest facility possible when they are not out fighting fires.

Drive thru vehicle bays are recommended so that your personnel are not required to pull into the street to back the apparatus in, and they protect the apparatus from accidental damage. This should be a major factor when selecting your site.

Vehicle exhaust from apparatus are a real danger to our fire fighters. They have been proven to cause or contribute to serious illness and death. There are numerous possibilities for the removal or filtration of vehicle exhaust fumes. Many fire departments are deciding that 100% source capture is their goal, and are deciding on vehicle exhaust removal systems that attach a hose to the tailpipe of the apparatus, allowing no contaminants to escape into the bays.

Four fold doors should be installed, if the budget permits, to avoid any possible accidents between apparatus and building. Due to the rate the doors open and the fact that they are always visible to the driver, any accidents should be mitigated by their installation. We have all seen an apparatus scrape or hit an overhead door on their way out of the bay, and understand the costs involved to repair both.

The leading cause of death in fire fighters is heart attack and cardio vascular disease. In an effort to combat heart attack and stroke, many stations are requesting the inclusion of a large and functional exercise room. This provides both on-duty and off-duty personnel an area to build a stronger cardio vascular system in a comfortable atmosphere. At a minimum, an exercise bike, treadmill, and free weights should be provided for their use.

With the development of LEED program, many studies have been conducted regarding employee productivity and health in relation to natural lighting. A study has shown a 3-18% gain in productivity and a decrease in sick days of up to 5% in buildings with daylighting/natural lighting systems. It should come as no shock then that most building committees have this at the forefront of their thoughts when planning their new station.

Green (Sustainable) Design: Green building directly benefits building owners through lower energy bills, lower water usage, sustainable buildings and healthier environments for occupants. Many fire departments are starting with small steps such as choosing healthier flooring materials and lower VOC paints. Others are seeking to implement green design and building practices to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. A project team affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council and with LEED Accredited Professionals can advise you on green building options.

Your facility is crucial to the success of your department and to the overall protection you provide to your communities and your personnel. When selecting your project team, look for a company that has extensive experience and competence in designing and building fire stations.

Since joining Bobbitt Design Build in 2005, Ben Wilson has has been the lead for coordinating all facets of project design, engineering and permitting. Mr. Wilson has a strong military background coupled with great communication skills allowing him to maintain control over large complex projects through the designbuild process.
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