Navassa chief shares building experience

CarolinaFireJournal - By John Kelley
By John Kelley
08/04/2013 -

Chief Donny Williams and the Navassa Volunteer Fire Department located in Brunswick County, N.C., recently went through the process of building a new station. Chief Williams offered to share his experiences to help other departments considering building a new station or remodeling their existing facilities.

For Chief Williams, the process began in 2004 when the county commissioned a consultant to perform a comprehensive review of the emergency services throughout the county. The consultant identified several issues with the existing Navassa facility, including the lack of ADA compliance, lack of fire protection systems, and lack of sleeping quarters and other spaces essential to a modern fire station. In addition, over time several upgrades had been made to the building that, due to a limited budget, were done with volunteer labor and did not meet current building codes.


Chief Williams recalled, “Based on the findings of the consultant, I drafted a 10 year strategic plan identifying major areas for improvement. One of those areas was a new facility. Around 2005, I was the assistant chief and started the process of brainstorming ideas based on the current and future needs of the community. The brainstorming ideas gave me the basics for the type and size facility to meet our needs. That process involved physically looking at as many fire stations as I could when time permitted, reviewing bid/RFQ/RFP documents online for new stations, researching builder and architect websites, and visiting booths at trade shows. In addition, I spent considerable time monitoring and looking at building design awards on fire service websites such as and in fire service publications, including Fire Chief magazine and Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal.”

With the 10 year strategic plan in place, Chief Williams began evaluating delivery methods for the design and construction of his new facility. “We looked at design build,” he said, “but initially focused more on traditional construction using an architect, because at the time I started the research, I could not find a lot of information on the design build process for fire stations.”

Ultimately, Chief Williams selected design build as the preferred method. “Around the summer of 2009, we found out more about the design build process,” said Williams. “ The most important factor for us was cost, and design build seemed to allow more flexibility to build exactly what the department wanted.”

Chief Williams then was faced with selecting a design builder. According to Chief Williams, “The in-house design aspect was very important because we wanted a single source that could give us quick responses.” Beyond that requirement, he stressed, “We wanted a firm that had experience building fire stations, especially larger fire stations over 10,000 square feet. In addition, the builder’s reputation and customer service after the building was complete were important to us since fire stations are long-term investments.”

Once a firm was selected, the design process began. “I selected the design and layout for the station based on the good and bad I picked up from looking at more than 50 fire stations in North and South Carolina between 2005 and 2009,” said Williams. “I started with a footprint that I liked, which would fit on our existing lot. I took a pad and spent one afternoon drawing out rooms based on those good and bad points. There were some minor things I could not do as a result of structural or code limitations, but we were able to work around them.

“One example is the mezzanine area. Most fire stations I saw had open mezzanine areas in the truck bays that appeared to be storage for surplus station equipment. These mezzanines appeared to be hot and, especially during the summer months, very uncomfortable. I came up with the idea to run the walls in this area to the ceiling and climate control this area to create a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) repair room as part of our planned respiratory protection program. We had just replaced the HVAC system in the existing building and the outdoor unit, and air handlers were less than two years old, so I wanted to save that HVAC equipment and use it to climate control the mezzanine after the walls were installed.

“I mentioned this to the design builder, and the structural and HVAC engineers made some adjustments to make this happen. The result is a 160 square-foot room dedicated to SCBA repair, maintenance and fit testing. The room is equipped with a constant air supply from the station breathing air compressor and the electrical needs to power our Posichek SCBA flow test machine, Quantifit mask fit test machine, and related computer equipment are met. This is just one of several instances where the design build process gave me flexibility in the design of the facility.”

The close working relationship between Chief Williams and his design builder continued throughout the construction process when open lines of communication are vital. Chief Williams confirmed that this was the case with his project. “My assistant chief and I were in daily contact with the site superintendent and knew every major detail that was taking place regarding scheduling and the work being completed.”

When asked what advice he would give other departments building in the near future, Chief Williams replied, “I would get out and talk with other fire chiefs that have built within the past five years and look at different facilities to get ideas. That is basically what I did. Our station has some design ideas that are original to us, but many of the ideas came from things that have worked for other departments.”

For Chief Williams and the Navassa Volunteer Fire Department, this process took almost seven years from the initial consultant’s report in 2004 to the dedication of the new station in January 2011. Planning took up the vast majority of the time. The project was funded in March of 2010, permits issued at the end of June 2010, and the completed facility was dedicated six months later.

Would Chief Williams have done anything differently? “I don’t think I would have done anything differently.” He adds, “Our building is a world-class facility and exceeds all of my expectations.”

John Kelley is Vice President, Business Development of Bobbitt Design Build, Inc.
Comments & Ratings

Issue 33.4 | Spring 2019

Past Issue Archives