Assess Your Station Before Building or Renovating

Building or renovating your station can be a daunting task. I was recently meeting with a fire department for the first time and was asked, “Can you give us a list of the things we need to talk about?” 


With all the choices in the industry today, it is nearly impossible for one person within the department to take on the task and build a comprehensive project scope that includes all the needs and desires; size, shape, color, material, paper or plastic. A tenured design-build general contractor with the knowledge and experience can many times be the right phone call to make. However, before you make that call there are a few important items your station should discuss prior to your initial meeting. Here is a quick list of discussion topics to get you started.

Know Your Needs

Fire stations are different from other buildings because not only do you live at your station overnight, you also use your station as an office building from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., training house for you and other local fireman, voting and polling during the elections and, on occasion, birthday and baby shower location. All that in mind, your station serves many purposes and has to be diverse.

Of course, every station is different and everyone’s needs are not alike. You may have more and you may have less than this list, but while working as a design-build general contractor the most common constant is, everyone is different. Know your station, as well as your present and future needs. Understand what you do in your station and what your future goals are concerning sleeping quarters, training facilities, kitchen needs and workout rooms. Ask questions like, “Do we need sleeping quarters for one or four people? Do we need a training room for 20 or 50 people? Do we need a commercial kitchen for our barbeque dinners? Do we need two or five offices for our elected members?” These questions will stir up ideas and allow your imagination to be intrigued with the possibilities.

Know Your Location

Many stations are located wherever the land was free 40 years ago, but that is not always the best location for your new station. Based off your records, take note of how many times you go left and go right out of your station for calls and emergencies. Have a conversation with county planning officials and ask about new housing or commercial building developments coming into the area in the next two to five years that could benefit from a fire station located closer to the new construction. Contact the local DOT and ask about new roads being proposed, to be sure you don’t buy land and build in the new interstate.

Ideally, DOT can give you the jump on buying land near the new interstate to give you quicker response times to accidents. Of course, the end decision will be based on available land in the ideal area. Do the due diligence and be prepared to submit your information when questioned, “Why did you build it here?”

Know Your Timeline

While working across the state building fire departments in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, I have heard everything from “we want to be in our station in eight months” to “we are three to five years away.” Both scenarios are good and obtainable. You can’t start soon enough discussing your needs with your fire department and board members. Having these preliminary conversations early helps build rapport with your department members and allows each one the opportunity to have their voice heard. Discussing the topics described in this article will help the progress to be more manageable when it is time to move forward with a design-building general contractor.

Also, tell your contractor your desired date of move-in and allow them to plan for that timeline in your design. Ask for a schedule of events, including preliminary project planning, contract dates, ground breaking dates and move-in dates. This will help you prepare for making those big decisions and verify that your contractor is keeping your interests and project at the forefront.

Know Your Budget

The golden question is always, “How much can we spend?”And I’m first talking about vacation. The kids want to know, your spouse wants to know, and you want to know so you can take out a loan for a Disney Cruise. On the flip side, when your new station comes into conversation, have a detailed look with your most knowledgeable board members about your budget. Understand what you can and cannot afford in payments. Know what revenue you have coming in and what your immediate needs will be in the next payment cycle.

Talk to the community and inquire about interest in buying your land and/or existing building and add those numbers into your new station budget. Most stations I talk to are restricted by a tight budget that don’t have additional space for unnecessary items and limited budgets for emergency repairs. Some stations have an abundance and can afford additional items to make their station stand out among the rest.

Keep in mind, budget transparency with your design-builder is important. An educated builder will build to suit for your needs described and within your budget. For example, preliminary design of a building that is 45 percent over budget is a waste of time for all entities involved; owner and contractor, while a project that is designed 25 percent under expected costs typically doesn’t have all the necessary or desired items included.

Building projects from the ground up do not have to be made difficult but do take time, patience and a cohesive plan from one that understands your needs and will have you covered. If you are ready to take that next step and build new or expand your fire department, take inventory of these few questions before making that phone call.

Thank you for how you serve and the risks you take.

Goosie Kennedy is a project manager for D.R. Reynolds Company, Inc., a design-build general contractor.

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