Deconstructed Firehouse


CarolinaFireJournal - Jim McClure
Jim McClure
07/21/2017 -

In the 2016 Winter issue I ran an exercise where we deconstructed and reconstructed a floor plan from an existing firehouse. I mentioned at the time that I did not know where the firehouse was, its age or really anything about it. It was just an idea to show how you could look at the building or building plans and make it better. This issue will repeat that process with a different floor plan. 

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Again, I have no idea where this firehouse is or how old it is. It is just a set of plans I acquired. I apologize for the small size of the print on the drawing. There wasn’t much I can do about it. The smaller print refers to the type of flooring for each space. It took a magnifying glass to figure that out. It is possible this plan was developed because the building was getting new flooring.

The measurements I mention below are pretty close, plus or minus a foot or so.

With just a quick glance, can you tell how many firefighters can be assigned to this station? You can count the chairs at the kitchen peninsula or the seats in the day room; there’s a difference. You can count the number of beds in the station. Personally, I would go with the number of beds. Counting all the beds including the captain’s quarters gives you seven. There are six beds in four bedrooms. Why the difference? Since there is a women’s restroom I’m going to assume that one of the single bedrooms is reserved for a female firefighter. I can’t talk about the bed icons without mentioning the fact that it shows the covers turned down. Turndown service in a firehouse? I wonder if there’s a mint on the pillow also.

In reality, it is deliberate to indicate it is a bed. The furniture layout in the two single bedrooms makes it look like there is a single locker with a very large L-shaped desk. In the rooms with two beds it appears there’s two lockers with perhaps a third locker hidden behind the door. One scenario would be that every bed is occupied every night. The crews are hot sheeting and emptying out their lockers every day. Another consideration would be that this is a mixed volunteer and professional firehouse — hence the difference in the number of beds per room. Whatever is behind the doors of the two bedrooms to the far upper right is pretty much useless unless the doors are closed. That is bad design. If the lockers were placed along the hallway wall and the bed on the hallway wall was placed where the lockers were it would be a much better arrangement. You could actually get three lockers in the room, one for each shift.

The captain’s suite is something I usually see for chief officers. The good news is the office has a door. This is important when a supervisor is talking about personnel matters with a crew member.

So we’ve established that we can have seven firefighters, all of which can be fed and have a comfy seat in the day room. After the firefighters moved in, do you think those two sofas facing each other actually set that way or were they rotated to see the TV? I assume it is on the wall as that’s common with the apparatus bay.

Pulling back a little bit and looking at the entire drawing, this is not an uncommon layout. There is the public side of the fire station and the private side of the fire station. The separation of the two activities is important.

The bottom of the drawing shows the public side with the lobby, two offices and a restroom. Given the number of file cabinets in the lobby, I get the impression that this may be a single firehouse department and this is their administration in its total. The layout is efficient. There are two doors to the apparatus bay. You’ll recall in the Winter 2016 issue I criticized the lack of doors from the offices to the apparatus bays.

Have you noticed the different markings to indicate the walls? I believe the walls with the diagonal lines in them are the outline of the original building. This was a building almost half the size originally. When it was first built the three toilets, turnout locker room, laundry, janitorial, EMS room probably had different functions. The only room that might still be the same is the mechanical room, but it looks too small to handle the equipment today. The app bay addition may have been built before or after the addition shown on the upper portion of the drawing. The app bay addition is about 44 feet long. That makes the original bay a little over 50 feet long. The width of the app bay doors is 22 feet. The good news is the app bay is a drive through. This building, with only seven beds, can actually handle four fire trucks. I wonder if the original shorter bay was a drive-through or did they cut that opening to make it a drive through?

Before I get into pointing out concerns or missed opportunities, I will remind myself, and all of you readers, that the design and construction of every firehouse is a conflict between cost and the best firehouse in the world. If you have been reading me long enough you know that I define best as a functional, maintainable firehouse.

The open concept of a combined day room, dining room and a kitchen is usually referred to as a great room. I’ve built several with that design. We only did it for firehouses with a crew of no more than five. The noise factor of more than five firefighters occupying that space at once is an absolute definition of negative synergy. In firehouses with two companies I always recommend a separate day room. This great room seems to be right on the border. It’s hard to watch the game when the cook is slamming pots and pans around.

In my almost 29 year career, I freely admit that my weak spot was always fire prevention. Our department measured the number of books you needed to study and master in linear feet.

I bring this up because I have a concern but I’m not sure I’m right. It would appear that the amount of travel the captain has to exit the building out the back door is about 80 feet to the patio. My scant memory tells me this is the only legal exit. I don’t believe the short hallway to the apparatus bay counts because it doesn’t take you outside. While we’re on the subject of doorways, I think it would’ve been great to have a doorway from the patio through the app bay wall into the app bay at that short stretch of wall. What we don’t know is if all the apparatus bay walls are lined with fixtures and equipment. A door there would shorten response time for the firefighters instead of having to go back into the building, down the hallway and through the great room.

A second concern is the turnout locker room. Best practices today require the turnout room to be on external walls, preferably a corner. This is so the room can have natural ventilation. This also presumes the weather permits it. I’ve always recommended a belt and suspenders approach here; natural ventilation plus exhaust fans. Having the turnouts within the confines of living space, right next to the day room is just one constant exposure. This is just one step removed from what I experienced as a rookie. We would bring the turnouts into the dorm so we could jump into them. Of course today we treat the firehouse as hot and warm zones in terms of exposures.

So how would we solve this problem? Before we get to that answer ask yourselves, “What else is missing from this building?” Go head, take a minute, and think about it, I’ll wait.

There is no exercise facility for this building, no decon space and there’s no dedicated communications room. By communications room I mean a room to house all the electronics a modern firehouse needs. Although the equipment is getting smaller there seems to be more of it. I know the city technicians where I worked always prefer to have this room on an outside wall with an exterior door only. Can you guess why? If it had an interior door we turned the room into a closet. If it’s an exterior door it’s out of sight, out of mind. The downside of that design would be if there were a critical piece of equipment the firefighters would have to reset. With an exterior door only, they would have to loop around the building to get to the door.

I hope some of you see where I’m going with this. Where I’m going is the lower right hand corner of the building. Space the width of the administrative office and the depth of the rear app bay gives us more than enough square footage to build a locker room, an exercise facility and a communications room.

Now in a perfect world these three rooms would be 17 feet deep which is the depth of the administrative wing. As mentioned earlier, that app bay wall is about 44 feet long. The smallest of the three spaces would be the communications room. At 17 feet deep it really doesn’t need to be more than eight feet wide. Question, would you build that right next to the office wing? The answer is yes. Do you know the reason why? We already know that the locker room is going to go on the exterior corner. Do we really want to put an exercise room on the opposite side of the wall of what is probably a chief officer? Even if the wall is cement block there will still be a problem with sound. I’m not one to throw iron but quite a few firefighters are. So the sequence of the three rooms, left to right, would be the communication room, exercise room and the new turnout storage room. That exercise room is going to be a nice space.

Finally, let’s address the decontamination space. It would take some money and a little effort but the best space for it would be in the lower half of the old turnout room. This is for two reasons. Decon rooms need plumbing. There is plumbing on adjacent walls. The other reason I learned the hard way. There is really only one location for a decontamination room; in the app bay on the living side of the building. The first firehouse I did was in 1997/1999. We were so proud. It was the first one to have a purpose built decontamination space. Unfortunately it was put on the far side of the apparatus bay. Was it used? No. We are all creatures of habit. Firefighters returned from a call, got off the rig and headed into the kitchen, the day room, the bathroom, the bedroom, etc.

Now every building after that has the decon sink on the path of travel to the living space. I would only use the lower half of the turnout room in line with the room marked storage. The upper half of the old turnout locker room I would split in half vertically from the hallway wall to the new wall defining the decon space. The door from the day room will still be there. It would now be access to a small supply closet. There would be a new doorway opening coming off the main hallway. There wouldn’t be a door. The bathroom already has one.

I’m out of space, words and time. I hope this all made sense to you. If not, reach out. Operators are standing by.

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit, www.firehousedesignandconstruction.com, call 408-603-4417 or email [email protected]

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Issue 33.3 | Winter 2018

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