The Schematic Design phase

CarolinaFireJournal - Jim McClure
Jim McClure
05/06/2014 -

(Note: This is part six of a multi-issue topic.)

Last issue we started looking at the separate elements of the Design Phase of your project. In other words, getting lines on a stack of pages that look like a firehouse. This issue I will continue working on the Schematic Design phase. Remember, I told you this could take up to a year. This just may play out in real time.

Sometimes it takes words to communicate what the drawings should look like.

I describe Firehouse #2’s Schematic Design process as the “Design of the Month Club.” The original plan was to re-model the building, not replace it. The design team went through 13 floor plans in 12 months; none were satisfactory. We were trying to use our new Design Program and save the existing structure. The original firehouse was built in 1947 with a 1982 addition. I worked in the building before the addition. A realtor would describe it as “Cozy” or “Compact.” Realtor’s English is different from ours.

The remodel was finally abandoned and additional funding was procured and the project became a replacement. We started with a clean slate using the Design Program we developed. Things went well for a time: than fiscal reality hit. Remember VE from the last issue? Our first Cost Analysis triggered a reduction in square footage. The three shifts immediately saw the negative impact the reductions made and realized they needed to communicate with senior staff about their concerns. It came naturally to this crew. They had already rejected 13 re-model plans.

I know some of you must be thinking our crews were either very powerful or very spoiled. As the guy between them and the rest of the world, I always let them have their say but did not guarantee results. Mick Jagger said it best. “You can’t always get what you want, but you’ll get what you need.”

The memo they wrote does a number of things right. It is focused on two specific issues, defines the problems, compares the existing building to the new design, quotes department policy, uses department statistics, reviews all the extra activities and people who use the space and makes a good argument for the changes.

Our program called for an extra bunkroom and bathroom to accommodate overstaffing in the short term and anticipate future growth in the long term.

Rather than paraphrase, I am going to let the crews do the talking.

Below is the actual memo. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.


The personnel at Station 2 have identified operational issues with two particular details of the design of the new fire station. These areas of concern relate to function, privacy and station security issues as well as the future needs of the station. Our goal is to design a cost effective and efficient fire station that meets the future needs of the department and the community.


The “extra” dormitory/bathroom that the Fire Facility Program recommends for new fire stations is absent in the proposed Station 2 design.

An example of a future need for this room is the temporary expansion of the STAR EMS program to Station 2. On Dec. 7, STAR 29 was temporarily moved to Station 2 in anticipation of response problems with the closing of the Downtown Medical Trauma Center. During this three month period, a sixth firefighter was added to Truck Company 2 because of the company’s status as “the busiest Truck Company in the City” (Special Bulletin 111). This temporary period ended on March 7, with STAR 2 being identified as the most utilized STAR car in the City by responding to 40 percent of the total STAR responses (Special Bulletin 226). Based upon the criteria, it is not unreasonable to expect a future realignment of the STAR EMS program that could require a permanent addition of personnel at Station 2.

Keeping this idea in mind, this department is on the edge of a huge transition in providing service. The department will place its first tractor-drawn aerial ladder truck into service next year and serious discussions indicate that it would not be an unreasonable idea to purchase more of these in the future. Truck 2 is a 1992 Westates 65’ Snorkel, the next truck apparatus to be replaced. Since much of the new development in our city is getting taller and tighter, it is reasonable to expect changes in apparatus configurations that could lead to changes in staffing. Coupling the idea of a tractor-drawn aerial ladder and the STAR EMS program readjustment, Station 2 would be a reasonable location for such a configuration.

An example of another future need for Station 2 is the Paramedic Accreditation /QA Evaluation process. At the present time, Station 2 is utilized as a twelve-hour “temporary” location to accredit new employees. As one of the busiest stations in the entire County, Station 2 is an ideal location to evaluate EMS skills and a valuable resource. Again, it is reasonable to expect a possible realignment of the program making Station 2 into a 24 hour accreditation site sometime in the future. Dormitory/privacy issues should not be the factors limiting the quality of service we provide.

Staffing levels occasionally do exceed the staffing needs in the department, leaving extra personnel to be utilized. Station 2, with the level of activity would be the best location to place these extra people. Unlike other stations, both company’s apparatus at Station 2 can accommodate extra personnel with the proper safety equipment.

Maintenance issues can cause sinks, toilets and showers to become unserviceable. In the event of a maintenance issue, an auxiliary facility would need to be available to meet the privacy needs of an affected employee.

International groups occasionally get fire department approval to use our station facilities. Los Bomberos have hosted guests from Latin American and used fire stations for accommodations. Station 2 is a destination with the Spanish-speaking guests because of the Hispanic community in the area and the location of many bilingual firefighters. An auxiliary facility in this situation could be used to help extend the hospitality.

As outlined in a previous memo, the majority of the employees in this station have a commute greater than one hour to get to work. Rather than fight traffic during the peak commuting hours, many in the department choose to come to work early. This may only appear as an issue of personal choice at first glance, however, there are many important benefits to the department and the community. Fifteen of the 33 employees here at Station 2 choose to arrive early and exercise before the start of their shift, as an example. This is valuable behavior that balances tradition with innovation. Regardless of any measurable benefit to any parties involved, employees will continue to arrive at the fire station early. Our concern is that since employees will be “locked-out” of using any private space they may be using common areas, like hallways, to change their clothes. It is reasonable that there be a specific place available for these employees to change clothes and prepare for work without disturbing the on-duty shift.

Additional Downstairs Bathroom
In the plans for the new fire station, there is only one bathroom for this 8,700 sq. ft. ground floor. This single bathroom is to be located in the center of the living area of the station. The current Station 2 has four bathrooms available for 7,300 sq. ft. of ground floor area. Counting the second floor and a total of 11,897 sq. ft. the new Station 2 will have only two bathrooms per person.

This is a very busy station with 10 personnel living in the confines. The police department and county sheriff also use our station. The officers use the bathroom facilities on a daily basis for their personal needs. We currently have a bathroom attached to the apparatus room, which keeps non-fire department people out of the living areas. On Tuesday June 7, during the most recent Election Day, Station 2 companies responded to 17 emergencies while the polls were open. During this time, the Registrar of Voters volunteers and voting citizens were free to use a station rest room facility without escort. Department policy effectively states that the building shall be secured upon leaving the station. It seems unreasonable and contrary to department policy to grant public access to our living quarters while we are out of the station.

Although the new fire station program does not call for a second bathroom on the ground floor, there are sound reasons to support the idea. We often have visitors to our station, during the major holidays for example, that easily doubles the number of people in the station. Inviting visitors to use a private, up-stairs, bedroom/rest room is inappropriate and also against the department’s policy.

A second downstairs restroom, separate from the interior of the fire station, is a necessity to provide proper function for the station. Placing this restroom on the opposite side of the apparatus floor appears be the best location for this facility. This restroom will allow the office areas of the station to be secured, as department policy states, when fire personnel leave the station. This second bathroom will provide a facility for station personnel using the exercise/utility side of the station and can be use to address privacy and hygiene concerns in the early morning hours. Non-fire department personnel, like community volunteers, would have a separate facility to use during special events without escort and without disrupting the business of the station.

The extra dormitory/bathroom should be put into the Station 2 design for the future needs of this station. This proposed design does not follow the station design standard used in Stations 34 and 35. The concern is that the station is being built to capacity now, which leaves no options for future service demands. This station will have the room to accommodate additional personnel in every other aspect, except for dormitory/bathroom capacity. Discussions about future needs, privacy concerns, maintenance issues and their effect the new design will have on functionality of the building is the focus of the dialogue we have initiated. There are valid reasons why an extra dormitory/bathroom will be in these new fire stations and they should not be ignored for Station 2.

Through the Chain of command

CA Johnson T-2A

BC Williams B-2A

DC Jones, BFO A-shift

Tom Smith, Assistant Fire Chief

Their memo triggered an open discussion causing the design team to take another look at the floor plans. Luckily there were other issues that had not been resolved yet. The location of the stairwell was still under discussion as well as several other smaller rooms, in particular, the janitorial space. Once the stairs found a permanent home, we could move the janitor’s closet. That square footage was then made into the crew’s restroom and the original downstairs restroom was moved to the apparatus floor. This solved every issue brought up in their memo about the bathrooms: capacity, privacy and security.

There is an old Chinese saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.” That applies to the issue of the extra bedroom. They got the extra bedroom but not by adding square feet to the building. All of this activity was occurring during the financial meltdown. The department was looking to save money like everyone else. Engine 2 was the only five-person engine company in the city. Senior Staff decided it was time to bring E-2 in line with everyone else and lower the budget and the staffing by one, from five to four.

This solved the problem of the extra bunkroom, just not the way the crews had anticipated. With only nine personnel per day, we had an empty bunkroom.

Mick Jagger strikes again.

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). For more information visit, or call 408.603.4417.
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