Building a Functional Firehouse

I know I have mentioned it before and those of you who have visited my website have also seen it. My only goal is the creation of maintainable, durable, func-tional firehouses. This issue deals with a long list of little things that if not caught reduces my stated goal. This list was created in reaction to the first three projects we built. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We, fire personnel, made assumptions as to what would happen during the design and construction process. We were not always right in those assumptions. As a result, several days were spent compiling a list of things that did not turn out as expected. They are not in any particular order. This was a brainstorming event and we wrote things down as they came up. They are reminders for us, and instructions for the architect and the contractor and the sub-contractors. image

Data and Electrical Outlets Blocked by Beds and Furniture

Electrical and data outlets need proper coordination in relation to the beds and desks. Make sure to locate the outlets outside the footprint of the bed. An extra-long mattress is 35 inches wide and 80 inches long and covers two walls with those dimensions.

Some Project Architects Have Specified Hose Bibs Requiring a Special Key to Operate or Housed Them in Wall Cabinets with Locks

This could be very inconvenient and not needed for a 24-hour facility.

Outside hose bibs/wall faucets should be operable without tools and not recessed in wall cabinets. Use standard exterior fixtures. Depending on the neighborhood, this may not work for everyone.

Hard Water Degrades Equipment

Verify water supply hardness and determine if water softener is desired. If yes, then include water softener for hot water system only. Locate softener system in mechanical room with outdoor access or outside in covered open-air area.

Full Time Roof Inspection is Absolutely Necessary

Another vital aspect is to have an inspector that knows how to install built-up roof systems. Specify that all roofing is to have independent full-time inspection either by-product rep and/or city inspector.

Concrete Flooring is the Finish Floor

Protect concrete floors from damage and staining during construction.

Architectural and structural specifications shall reference contractor’s responsibility to protect the concrete flooring throughout construction. Poor quality saw-cut joints and concrete work appear throughout stations. Use tooled joints instead of saw-cut joints and/or use a cold joint pour schedule throughout. Verify with structural engineer.

Major Conflicts Between Structural Beams and Wall Mounted Toilet Carriers and Plumbing Vents and Waste Stacks Down to Ground Level

Make sure that no major structural beams are right under your plumbing chase walls. Additional space needed in plumbing chase wall for structural conflicts can encroach into 60 inches ADA circle. Make sure there are no steel brace frames behind your plumbing chase wall for all bathrooms.

Library Cabinet and Casework Over Designed

The station library cabinet can be achieved via an owner purchased item; in other words, FF&E; Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment.

Master Water Shutoff for Each Rest Room Not Readily Accessible to Staff

Provide one-quarter inch turn ball valve in access panel with lever (no key) for each bathroom to shut off all water to all three fixtures. Shut off should be located in easy to find and operate on plumbing wall. While this is important for all firehouses, it is especially important when there are bathrooms upstairs.

Master Water Shutoff for Kitchen Not Readily Accessible to Staff

Provide one-quarter inch turn ball valve in access panel with lever (no key) for all sinks, icemakers and dishwashers in kitchen.

Inadequate Ventilation and Control of Fan in Rest Rooms

Provide 300 to 450 cubic feet per minute fans in the room; 1/6 HP motor.Provide occupancy sensor with timer for fan power.

Code Compliant Occupancy Sensors

Provide occupancy sensor for light fixture. Switch to have clock timer override. This is to prevent all lights coming on in the middle of the night when a fire-fighter uses the rest room. Night-light with photocell to provide minimal light needed.

Standardization of Specifications
for Overhead Doors

  1. Door motors – 1 HP three-phase preferred
  2. Front and rear doors; 14 feet by 14 feet, Seven panels – top three – aluminum, middle two – glass and bottom two aluminum (no steel due to painting requirements)
  3. Five year maintenance agreement on motors and doors
  4. OSHA safety strip on door bottoms and photo eyes at two heights (verify average bumper and basket heights)
  5. Retractable take up reels for sensor wires to safety strip
  6. Red/green traffic light mounted on driver’s side of doors eight feet above ground. Light indicates condition and location of door.
  7. Specify doors with the biggest stiles and rails. They don’t smile or flex when in the up position. They are also less likely to rack and get stuck in the tracks.

Malfunctioning Apparatus Bay Doors and Lack of Service Response

Specify service response seven days a week during warranty period or a performance bond to cover calling out the city’s on-call repair company.

Conflicts Between Systems in Apparatus Bay

Coordinate location between diesel exhaust systems, overhead door and hard-ware, lighting, mechanical, sprinklers and plumbing. Verify that radiant heaters don’t impact hose exhaust system.

Number of Speakers Needed

Single company: Four speakers in apparatus bay. Two company: Six to eight speakers in apparatus bay. Placement shall be between the trucks or along the sides so that they are audible during an event. They must compete with diesel exhaust fans and engines starting.

Coordination of Clear Wall Area in Apparatus Bay

Bottle storage – provide six-foot wall length plus six foot high clear area for O2 and SCBA bottle racks. Racks in two company and battalion stations are taller not wider.

Conflicts with Wall Space Needs

Coordinate all electrical switches, occupancy sensors, electrical panels, sub panels, thermostats, telephones, microphones and electrical outlets to maximize use of free wall space for maps, racks, file cabinets and white boards.


Verify mounting height (60 inches) and location with owner.

Mop Sink Plumbing Coordination with Owner Provided Soap Dispenser

Provide corner mop sink with two sets of hot and cold faucets stacked one on top of the other on left wall. This allows the soap dispenser to be pre-plumbed to one faucet and have another one available. Automatic Cleaning Product dispenser (24” x 24”) mounted above faucets.

Clarification of Storage Room Requirements

Shelving is FF&E. It is 78” wide X 90” high X 24” deep, no casework needed. Door to store room has a three-foot wide door opening.

Roof Issues

Better coordination of roof access needed. Access to roof areas needs to be safe and efficient. Provide permanent ladder on side for access to mechanical units and roof. Not needed for areas without equipment that need maintenance. Roof access ladder in janitor’s closet OK but needs to be coordinated with roof equipment placement and roofing material type (i.e. no access to standing seem roofs). Roof needs to be as clean and uncluttered as possible to allow for re-roofing in future.

Always Provide Mechanical Units on Curbed Platforms (no sleepers with roofing under mechanical equip). Roof equipment conflicts with parapets and screens. Coordinate the parapets with mechanical layout to avoid screens.

Planning for Future Needs

Second Floor Hallway: Provide operable windows or doors at end or ends of hallways. This allows easy addition of stairs or future additions. Otherwise it is major surgery.

Kitchen Island Trash Can Garage Design

Trash/recycle can garage opening to be a minimum 34” clear AFF for trash can on a dolly. Casework is to have no floor except concrete. Doors to just clear floor, no kicks.

Stainless Steel Countertop

Stainless steel 304, 14 gauge counter tops with integral/monolithic back splash to underside of upper cabinets. Marine edge is to be across entire front edge. Sinks to be Integral/monolithic to the counter top with a knife-edge divider between the sinks.

(Note: Nonstandard installation sequence is critical. This can only be installed two non-standard ways. Either put the stainless steel in after the base cabinets and before the upper cabinets or the more common method of uppers first and base cabinets after. If this is done the only way everything will fit is if the front of the kitchen sink cabinet is left open and only finished after the stainless steel is installed.)

Kitchen sink windowsill must be stainless steel, the same as countertop. Windowsill must be water tight with welded and ground seams and no caulk seams.

Stainless Steel Backsplash at Stove

Provide separate stainless steel back splash behind gas stove up to ventilation hood. Discuss with owner how to tie into integral back splash.

Blocking for Pot Rack over Islandor Peninsula

Coordinate with electrical, sprinkler, and mechanical consultants and sub-contractors for proper location.

Water Intrusion During Wind Driven Rain

Thresholds must be compatible with storefront systems. There must be weather tight seal. Products from the local hardware store are not compatible.

Lost Space Under Stairs

Sheetrock and sprinkler in this area, provide an access door, and provide a light with occupancy sensor for maintenance access.

Air Movement in Rooms

Provide ceiling mounted fans to facilitate air movement and cooling without using the air conditioning units. All fans are to have hardwired switches. Remotes get lost or broken! Coordinate with ceiling lights so that fan blades do not create strobe effect. Electrical and mechanical are to coordinate HVAC fan and lighting for ceiling.

Provide a Designated Apron (front or rear) for Rig Washing

Runoff is to be captured by a storm filter system. The location of the system is not to impede apparatus egress during maintenance or repair of system. (This may not be required in you area.)

Too Many Different Light Fixtures and Bulbs Used in the Stations

Not enough space to store one case of each lamp type. Try to standardize and minimize light bulb types for all fixtures.

Durability of Exterior Materials

Do not use wood siding or wood fencing. It creates long term maintenance issues such as painting, termites and wood rot.

Firehouse Perimeter

Fencing material and design to consider privacy, security and durability.

Window Choices and Leak Issues

Specify window units with integral flange and flashing for better water tight-ness. Wherever integral flange and flashing are not provided by window systems, provide sheet metal pan with weep hole system. Windows should not rely on caulking and building paper, as its primary weather seal.

Entry Doors and Passage Doors Too Narrow to Carry Turnouts and Equipment Through

Exterior doors from employee parking area to apparatus bay to be 42 inches wide.

Electrical Room Door Size

Opening to electrical room to be 72” wide and 96” high. Preferred are two 36” doors. This allows an easy installation and repair of electrical values and panels.

Personal Lockers not Per Program (insufficient size)

Since the crew lockers are installed in the hallway wall, regardless of square footage, the bedroom/hallway wall must have a net opening of 10 feet for four 30” lockers.

Communication Equipment Room Doors not Big Enough for Equipment Installation

Doors to communication room are to be 48” wide X 96” tall, either single or two doubles.

Equipment Access to Mechanical Room

Opening to mechanical room to be as large as possible up to five feet opening and 96” high.

Conflict Between Health Code and Electrical Code

GFI required in kitchens. Refrigerators cannot be on GFI outlets unless warning device to signal outage is attached.

The actual list is much longer than this. We were continually adding to it as the architects, contractors and sub-contractors found new and creative ways to negatively impact our buildings. I couldn’t list them all because other people need space for their articles too. I’ll list more in the future.

You may have noticed there was no mention of any brand names in anything I wrote. That was deliberate on my part. While we did specify brands for many things, I did not feel they belonged here. Firstly, some of them would be out dated already. Secondly, I don’t want to get into a spitting contest with anyone over which particular item is better. If you want specific information on anything here, just email me.

See you in three months.

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,, call 408-603-4417 or email

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