His Experience, Your Gain

Recently, I had a conversation with a fire department chief who had, within the last three years, built a new fire department as their Base 1. They had been in their previous station for nearly 45 years and the upgrades they needed were well past due. 

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Chief Sheppard’s “ugly” experience doesn’t have to be your experience.  Learn from his mistakes and have your station built right. Do it right the first time.

Chief Sheppard spoke about the past administration and the great work they had done to raise money for the station, raise awareness for the needs of the community, access funds for more trucks, supply their fireman with new equipment, develop safety protocols for different strategies to utilize during the calls, and bring in more volunteers every year since the station’s existence. He spoke about how the building had evolved since 1975 when the building was originally constructed for a “truck and pony,” and how so many people within the community reached out to help supply the station with everyday living resources like plates, napkins, food for the volunteers during meeting evenings, and cold drinks during the hot summer months. Resources were never an object that got in the way when it came to the fire station’s needs, as someone always knew someone that knew someone that had something to give.

Early into the 2000s, the station started to see the first signs of wear on the building’s appearance. Documented by the pictures hanging in the hallways, changes were made and bays were added when the needs arose for new trucks, trailers and equipment storage. Until early 2000, the building had seen little change. However, when new roads were being built around the station’s district, the station saw expansion happen within its walls in 2001, 2005, and 2009. According to Chief Sheppard these expansions fit the current need and didn’t have great outlook or forethought for the future. 

In November 2013 the community had a blistering cold stretch that put a major dent in the future plans of the local station. Two trees fell on the station from snow and ice weighted limbs, which caused power outages and ultimately frozen water lines within the building. Frozen water lines turned to busted water lines and damage on wood stud construction that had prior moisture problems before these events. The station continued to operate and serve its community while not living inside their station. After nearly six months of searching for answers on how and which direction to move forward, a community member offered 9.2 acres of land within the fire department’s current district for the grand total purchase of $1.00.  A dream and wish came true for the station’s board who were looking at land prices of nearly $12,000.00 per acre. So, this is where my true story begins…

Chief Sheppard jumped to the ugly part; the building was constructed by a local house builder that designed the station to fit their current needs. The station saved money on grading and placed the building below the road they are exiting on to. The building has two offices for a chief and an assistant chief and two bedrooms that only enter from those two offices. The overhead doors are built 12’x12’ with only two feet between the doors.  Six inches of concrete was poured for the truck bay floor slab and the kitchen will seat five as long as two people stand up. Lastly, their 7,200 square foot station took nearly 16 months to build and cost an extra 20 percent more than originally estimated after all change orders were issued and approved. 

The long story short, Chief Sheppard praised the past administration for the great work they did prior to 2014, but now that their building has been constructed and Chief Sheppard has taken over, he sees the mistakes made during construction.

  1. Build the station’s footprint pad up on your property.
    Always have the grade of your property sloping away.  This will ensure that water displacement around the building will not enter the building in any way.  Having problems within the station are inevitable, similar to ones you have in your own house.  However, having water and mold problems are completely different and are more difficult and costly to rectify. 
  2. Design your station to meet the needs today and have enough foresight to plan for the future.
    Build bedrooms that are sized appropriately and are accessible to the entire station. Preferably, these bedrooms should be in direct access to the truck bays for fast response times. 
  3. Install, at a minimal, 12’ wide x 12’ tall overhead door.
    However, the door size that will last for a lifetime, no matter what truck your station decides to buy, is a 14’ wide x 14’ tall. Doors can come in many different forms, for example; rolling steel, bifold, and sandwich panel doors. Those choices are negotiable, but a 14’ wide x 14’ tall for your fire station should be a commonplace dimension when talking about your new station design. Also, along with the overhead door size, remember the trucks you are parking need room to open their doors, boxes, and tool cribs. Forty inches and growing should be the minimal distance between overhead door jambs, but if you are using 12’ wide doors, the 40” allowance needs to grow even further due to the distance you are losing between the truck locations. 
  4. Depending on your station’s needs, your common concrete truck bay thickness should be eight inches.
    For standard one-half-ton one-ton trucks, trailers, ATVs, and other small vehicles, six inches is sufficient. However, back to advice #2, design your station to meet the needs for today AND HAVE ENOUGH FORESIGHT TO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. You might have a great idea on how to place the trucks in the building, but the next chief will have a different idea and having the comfort of eight inches concrete will provide a great base for that new truck in that bay. 
  5. Common hang out areas for your fireman are the kitchen, dining room, and weight room.
    Be sure these rooms are suitable for the number of members you plan to have in your station. Having these areas properly sized will ensure comfort for your fireman and will untimely have your fireman around the station more often, which allows for your volunteer stations to provide fast response times. Comfort within the station is key to success, as stations need more volunteers than ever right now. 
  6. Hire a qualified Design-Build General Contractor that has built stations across the state, within multiple areas, and for multiple clients.
    Having the experience of a knowledgeable contractor on your side, that has built and designed stations that fit your need, will ensure that the problems of timely construction and project cost don’t go unseen and get out of hand. 
Goosie Kennedy is a Project Manager for D. R. Reynolds Company, Inc., a Design-Build General Contractor.
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