Facility Design and Construction to Meet Specific Emergency Requirements

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ben Wilson,
By Ben Wilson, LEED AP BD&C
01/10/2015 -

Over the past decade, increased emphasis has been placed on how to properly train and equip our fire stations and emergency personnel. Advancements in equipment, technology and training continue, and these should be considered when planning to design and build an emergency facility. Here is an overview of some of the latest trends and technologies in fire station construction.


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 personnel, but today there are so many different ways to do so and types of training that it is relatively simple to design a number of training elements into your new station.

Every new station should have a training room large enough to accommodate the needs of the station, with consideration given to hosting occasional community events. 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 is the inclusion of a training tower. Typically the tower will match closely in height the typical make-up of the surrounding community. The tower can be used for numerous training possibilities, including ladder raises and carries, rope rescue, search and rescue, repelling, and vertical confined space training.

When thinking about the design of your new station, consider numerous training elements to keep your personnel performing at their peak levels.

Reducing Response Times

One of the keys to successful fire fighting is to arrive on the scene at the earliest possible stage. When building a new station, you should focus on elements of design that will reduce the time it takes your personnel to respond. Numerous design elements can be 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 allows — so the use of stairs or fire poles is eliminated. Providing a clear and easily accessible path from any point in the building to the apparatus bays is critical. Place as few doors in the access path as possible. When doors are necessary, always swing toward the apparatus bay to prevent bottlenecks.

Four-fold side motion doors are not a new concept 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 cost for four-fold doors is more than conventional overhead doors, door longevity is increased and maintenance is significantly reduced.


The placement of a fire station is typically determined by distance and travel time within the community it serves. This often means locating 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 foster community acceptance of the station, the design needs to complement the existing architecture of the area.

When planning your new station, consider holding an open forum for the community to see and comment on the design concept, site plan and landscaping plan. Be ready to provide local citizens with the reasoning behind the location of the new station and how it will better serve the community.

Many new stations are including an exterior patio/BBQ area where they can host and cook for fund raising and community events. Providing the community an opportunity to visit the station in a comfortable setting allows your station to maintain continued support and endorsement from the community.

Health and Safety

Our firefighters are already in a profession that puts their lives at risk every day. It is our duty as construction professionals to provide them with the safest facility possible.

Drive-thru vehicle bays are recommended so that your personnel are not required to pull into the street to back the apparatus in. The drive-thru bay also protects the apparatus from accidental damage. This should be a major factor when selecting your site.

Vehicle exhaust from apparatus is a real danger to firefighters. There are numerous possibilities for the removal or filtration of vehicle exhaust fumes. Many fire departments are deciding that 100 percent source capture is their goal and are installing vehicle exhaust removal systems that attach a hose to the tailpipe of the apparatus, allowing no contaminants to escape into the bays.

If the budget permits, four-fold doors should be installed to avoid accidents between apparatus and building. Due to the rate the doors open and the fact that they are always visible to the driver, accidents can be mitigated with this installation.

The leading cause of death in firefighters is heart attack and cardiovascular disease. In an effort to combat heart attack and stroke, many stations are requesting the inclusion of a fully functional exercise room. This provides both on-duty and off-duty personnel an area to stay fit 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 sustainability programs, many studies have been conducted regarding employee productivity and health in relation to natural light. One study has shown a three to 18 percent gain in productivity and a decrease in sick days of up to five percent in buildings with daylight/natural lighting systems.

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 seek 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.

Benjamin Wilson, LEED AP BD&C, is president of Bobbitt Design Build, a leading design-build contractor for Fire/Rescue facilities throughout the Carolinas.
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