How to build a perfect fire station

CarolinaFireJournal - Steve Baird
Steve Baird Bobbitt Design Build
07/25/2010 -
Nearly all fire stations have a few items in common; apparatus bays, restrooms, decontamination, storage, at least one office, and an outdoor BBQ area. The challenge is that they are all moving targets based on the needs of the surrounding community. Budget constraints, current and planned equipment, functionality, response times, as well as personnel likes and dislikes, all exert influence on the station design. If you do not control the growth of your community, are not told what your budget will or won’t be, are grateful when you acquire or inherit another piece of equipment, and never know for sure what your line up is from year to year, you’re not alone. image

To answer the question of how to build a perfect fire station, you will need to view your station from a third party perspective all the while having inside knowledge on what works best and doesn’t for your station.

There are multiple steps to this process.

  • Forecast with accuracy at different levels.
  • Plan for today, tomorrow and the unexpected. Today is the easy calculation; you already know what you have and what you need. Tomorrow, and the unexpected, are typically the challenging answers.
  • Take a business approach to planning by writing out the five, 10 and 20 year projections using historic data and not emotional or selfish interests.
  • Remember, history typically repeats itself.

Once you’ve defined the growth pattern of your community, the focus should be on the department as a whole rather than each individual fire station. Determine how many fire stations or sub-stations will be required and what is the most effective means of operation. Do they all have separate equipment for laundry and extraction, will your department have an individual training facility and to what level, will the fire station facilities be used for any community events?

Does the individual fire station only have one interest that is different from the department, or do they potentially have multiple different interests. Although the individual fire station may have interests aside from the department, maintaining consistency on a global scale will keep your new fire station perfect for a longer period of time.

Building the perfect fire station is like being an economist. If you predict correctly you’re a hero; if your prediction is wrong, you lose credibility and may never have another opportunity to predict. Therefore if you want to be right, get the correct supporting data. Getting the correct data takes time and effort, and there are no shortcuts. The immediate goals are easy to define and should be evaluated by the best fire personnel in your district. Fire personnel that spend the most time at the station will understand the current needs for their perfect fire station. The only question that remains: “Is it affordable?”

The fire chief, assistant fire chief and captains need to team together to discuss their future needs on a global scale. Fire chiefs earn the right to be leaders for all the right reasons — they live and breathe life safety for the community. This does not mean they understand how to build the perfect fire station; however, their input is invaluable when provided to professionals who design and build fire stations.


Another step in the pursuit of building the perfect fire station is funding. This is especially important if you are working with funding that requires construction information before you even know when or where to start. Since design and construction methods are what drive the costs of services, having an expert assist from the beginning allows you more flexibility and freedom of choice. 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 is the newest funding program. Although it may sound simple, funding a project may be complicated. If you’re applying for a grant, the best approach is to select a contracting firm that is willing to perform some legwork before submitting any cost breakdown in the application. This company should identify the differences between the written word and applicable construction practices. Don’t be afraid to ask a qualified contractor to assist with the breakdown of costs.

The ARRA of 2009 may be the perfect solution; you apply for the grant, are confident the information you supplied represents your intentions and now you’re ready to begin. Is it really that simple? For those that applied and will be receiving FEMA grant funds, it seems that there are more questions than answers once you are notified of your approval.

While the flow of Stimulus Act funding is beginning to appear in construction; navigating through the process may be overwhelming for some. You’ve heard the adages, “don’t tell me what you know, show me what you know,” and “talk is cheap, proof is in the pudding!” Bottom line, this means find a construction team that has a proven track record working through the FEMA process to allow you to make the best decisions. Contact a team that not only provides expert advice in design and construction, but is most familiar with the FEMA process. This will provide you with a piece of mind to know what the boundaries are without losing sleep.

Overall you need to qualify a construction company through past performance and customer satisfaction in more areas than one. Call on fire chiefs who have had the opportunity to live and work in the stations after they were constructed. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about quality, functionality and the ease of the process. If the answer is “we’d do it all over again with the same team,” consider that company to assist you with the process. 

On-site construction

The second part to the design build equation is construction on-site once plans are complete. It’s ironic how most people view the visual portion of construction in the field as the entire process, not knowing the time vested by all leading up to that point. Just the same, building a perfect fire station is also what and how things are accomplished in the field. The construction staff plays a significant role in the success of a project. Having a user friendly staff that monitors at a very minimum attention to scheduling, subcontractor scopes of work, detail, quality control and inspections is critical.

To have a customer endorse you as a reference means you did everything to the best of your ability and provided good service from beginning to end. People don’t refer those that do not perform well. When challenges do arise, and they will, how did the construction company handle the challenge? 

The makings of a perfect station are really dependent on the team you put together. The right contractor, architect, engineers, and fire personnel will ultimately lead to the construction the perfect station. Yours!

Steve Baird can be reached at Bobbitt Design Build, 803-731-5550 or e-mail [email protected].
Comments & Ratings

  9/15/2013 6:30:23 AM

Re Jim Ball and my e 
Re Jim Ball and my expectations for a prenseterI like a prenseter who assembles content in a concise, well-ordered way without digging around and stammering, and to be reasonably fluid in delivery. Some humour also serves very well. If the prenseter is not at all entertaining, then my least expectation is for him to be able to tell me something I don't know, or at very least tell me something that makes sense. It doesn't matter to me whether I agree or disagree, but I expect a paid prenseter to be able to express himself at least as well as me. Otherwise I can’t take more than twenty seconds! I don’t think that’s asking too much.
  5/8/2013 11:01:40 AM

Fire station purchaser 
I am thinking of purchasing a fire station. What are hazards or hazardous materials or equipment that I should worry about? Is ground contamination one of them? Thank you

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