Building Today For Tomorrow

The 50-Year Station

CarolinaFireJournal - Matt Culler
Matt Culler
08/07/2015 -

In today’s economy, many county and local governments face the common thread of shrinking budgets and the need to do more with less. This is especially true as it pertains to maintaining, replacing and expanding critical services such as fire, EMS and police. When it comes to fire stations and construction, the increased focus is on building something that meets the needs of the department now and well into the future. Whether it’s a full-time department in a large municipality or a volunteer department in a small community, designing and building a facility that will serve long-term needs for decades to come is critical.


Planning is Key to Success

Whether you are building a new station, renovating or adding on, the first step is planning. Take time to sit down and map out the goals for your construction project, and determine how to mesh the short-term and long-range goals for your department. From there you can identify and prioritize the features your building needs to meet your goals. New or more sophisticated equipment, increased classroom training, and ever-changing fire fighting vehicles are a few aspects that need to be taken into account. Evaluate your current facilities and previous construction projects to discover what works, what doesn’t, what products hold up better than others, and what can be done to improve on the past.

It is helpful to get input from a variety of personnel who work, sleep and eat at the station. It is also important to remain objective, not letting personal opinion or preferences keep you from making sound business decisions. Hiring a design-builder who understands all the nuances of fire station design and construction can guide you in making these early decisions. This planning is paramount to a successfully planned and executed project.

Selecting the “Ideal” Location

Once you’ve pinpointed what you need in the facility, it’s time to decide where to locate it. This, of course, applies to new stations.

Factors unrelated to construction, such as planned community growth and response times, will form the basis for site location selection. Once a site has been selected that meets your department’s prerequisites, it is important to perform some due diligence as part of the design process to identify potential risks to your project, such as wetlands or poor soil conditions for building support.

After the site receives a clean bill of health, the next step is to evaluate the best position on the site for the new building. Thoughtful placement of the facility will provide optimal functionality (i.e. apparatus bay accessibility, separation of public vs. private entrances), while allowing for future growth and expansion.

The same site planning considerations also apply when adding on to an existing facility. Sometimes spending a little more to renovate and re-purpose existing space as part of the addition will provide a better long-term solution, rather than simply adding another bay or office onto the side of the facility because it made sense at the time.

Evaluating site construction costs should go hand in hand with the site layout. Balance the “ideal” location for the building or addition with the cost to put the structure in that spot. Sometimes site grading and utility infrastructure costs make that perfect location imperfect, and other options must be considered.

Building Within Budget

After all this thought and planning, it’s finally time to build. The evaluation of your existing facilities and input from your staff is critical.

At this stage, an important step is to select the right materials. Weigh the cost of the material with maintenance and life-cycle costs. For example, in some cases it’s better to buy a higher-end overhead door or exhaust removal system if it means lower maintenance costs down the road. However, in other cases, your budget may require you to make more economical selections for the short-term and plan for future maintenance and replacement costs. With your feedback and an understanding of how you operate, a good builder can recommend materials that will hold up best within your facility.

Finally, the most important step in building your 50-year fire station: Identify and maintain a focus on your budget. This should be done at each and every step of the process. You must balance your existing goals with the funds you have available. Developing a phased construction plan is a great way to meet all your goals, planning them around the funds you receive over a five-, 10- or 20-year period.


If you are thinking about building or already planning, take time to talk to other chiefs who have recently gone through the process. In addition, an experienced design builder who understands how to manage the planning, design, permitting and building process can be invaluable to ensuring the successful, on-time and on-budget delivery of your facility. These resources can share great advice and provide new perspectives on old challenges.

What constitutes a 50-year fire station is going to be specific to the needs of each department or district. Regardless, the more you evaluate, plan and budget early, the more success you will have in accomplishing your goals and getting the most value out of each and every dollar you have to spend.

Matt Culler is a project developer at Bobbitt Design Build, based in the company’s Columbia, S.C., office. Culler works with businesses and organizations to help them achieve their goals for new and renovated facilities. Prior to joining Bobbitt, Culler worked for Mead and Hunt Engineers and Architects in environmental and commercial site development. He is a member of South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association, Urban Land Institute, and Society for Marketing Professional Services.
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